Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Bike Ride

I'm currently in Kelowna Airport, flying home after an action packed and wonderfully inspiring week. Like previously mentioned, I was asked to join National Bank Financial's “Bike Ride for Youth” for six days and write a piece of music based on the event. In a nutshell, the employees and clientele of NBF are collectively riding across Canada to raise money for the “Big Dreamer's Fund” they have set up for “Free The Children”. The beauty in this program is that it enables leadership initiatives in local youth, and supports it with the money that's been fundraised within the community. For example, let's say a young girl or boy in Victoria raises 4000$ towards a sustainable development program for an impoverished village in Kenya, the Bank will give them 4000$ from the money collected in the “Big Dreamer's Fund” from the riders of the Victoria branch. Individual communities are able to support the work of their own kids helping others, which greatly benefits the people that receive the aid, but also creates globally conscious youth in our society. To be very blunt about it, I love this concept because the money isn't just being thrown at the problem and assuming results. I think FTC's work is outstanding because it addresses long-term development issues, such as education and sustainable development in places that are unable to instigate change without aid (while managing to create future leaders in our society).

My intentions, now that the ride is over, is to write a large work that commemorates the event and continues to raise awareness and funds for FTC. Fun, eh? (British Columbia is home to one of the variations of the Canadian accent, which I have to admit, I don't actually have, but has been the source of bad Canadian jokes directed towards me in the last 2 years.) This means I'm gearing up the Big Band for an early Deember tour! I'm way too excited about this... 


Here's a de-briefing of my experience in the ride:

Passing Vancouver on my way to Victoria

I arrived in Victoria on the 6th with my father and 2 bikes. He had borrowed a Specialized “Allez-Up” from a friend, and we had gone out to buy the mandatory revealing lycra shorts, among other necessary road-bike nerd gear. I'm an avid commuting cyclist (it's the most efficient and fun way to get around in NY and Montreal) but I had never really ridden a road bike, let alone done a 6 day trip before.

My father dipping his tire in the Pacific for good luck

 The first day was the Victoria to White Rock leg of the trip, which was only about 70 km (if that) because of a ferry ride, and quite a few unexpected events (see picture of the van barely getting through a cow tunnel. It's a long story...) I grew up in White Rock, and hadn't returned in 8 years, so after the welcoming celebration near Semiahoo high school, I decided to take a ride around my old neighbourhood. Things have changed. It's been commercialized (the apex of which is a Wal-Mart) and apparently the real estate market continues to grow. It's not the little town I grew up in anymore. I passed by my old house, knocked on the door, and the current owners were nice enough to let me look around! I then biked down to my old school, which was shut down soon after I moved to Montreal (I found out on this trip that it was full of asbestos and lead paint at the time that I was a student there). It's now been refurnished as a daycare, with the original buildings intact, as it is a heritage site.

Old School (Kensington Prairie)

Truck clearance in cow tunnel...

Epic Flat
I met up with the rest of the team at a restaurant owned by someone at the bank for a dinner along White Rock beach.

White Rock Beach

 The next morning we departed from White Rock with a team of about 13 people. I spent the first half of this 140km ride by myself. The second half was much more physical, riding with the “fast” group.


We arrived in Hope, and I ended up having a kooky experience trying to find a bus for the father in-law of the mechanic (Guillaume) of the trip. Hope isn't big, so naturally, the bus station closes early. I got an inside tip from a taxi driver to seek out a man running a restaurant who would be able to get a ticket for us... After being led to a back room of a laundromat, Alain (the in-law) had his ticket in hand, and I went to meet up with the rest of the team. I realized while eating that I was coming down with a fever (which I hadn't felt while riding, I must have been too focused...)

The 3rd day was the Hope – Manning Park leg of the ride. This involves 95km distance, with a climb of 4000 feet! I managed to keep up with the leader of the B.C. ride (Trevor) although I had to work for it. Manning Park is in the middle of the path from Hope to Penticton, and there's not much going on there except for it's natural beauty. This may have been one of the most physical things I've ever done in my life, and the fever didn't help, although I managed to get rid of it within a day of literally “sweating it out”. 

We started the day at 40 feet above sea level

The 4th day was the longest ride, and the low point in the trip for me. We were geared up for a 170 km ride, the team this day being myself, Trevor, and two new members Pierre and Steve. This was a group of true cyclists. Trevor competes, Steve rode 5000 km this summer and felt like it was very little, Pierre has done the Iron-Man Triathlon. The beginning of the ride was total payoff for having ridden purely uphill for an entire day. After an hour of riding, we hit the downhill portion of the mountain. My highest speed was 67km an hour, which apparently is not very fast for a real cyclist, especially on the hills we were riding. After a snack break, the team decided that we would ride in formation for the next portion of the ride. They asked me how experienced I was in formation riding, I answered “not at all”, and they went through the procedures/hand signals I needed to know.

Formation Riding (post-accident, hence my fear of drafting at this point, this is also a bad example...)

We got in line, I was in second. After a short while, Trevor signaled me to come up front, so I did, and began signalling things (maybe too many things, in fear of not properly doing my job.) After a couple of minutes, I signaled a baseball-sized rock that was right in our path, but I think it may have been too late, and it's possible Steve hadn't seen it, so he flipped over his handlebars, Pierre flipped over Steve's bike, and Trevor managed to “bunny-hop” over Steve! I heard all of this behind me, stopped immediately and got in the middle of the road to signal the cars that were approaching to slow down, while getting Pierre's bike, which had flown into the other lane. I saw that Steve had gotten up and was walking around, although Pierre was on the ground and holding his shoulder. Steve kept assuring us that he was fine (although he had road-rashes all along his left side), but Pierre was clearly in a lot of pain. After assessing the damage to Pierre, we realized that he had fallen on his head and shoulder, so his helmet had cracked, and his shoulder was separated... He asked me what happened, I responded, a few moments went by, an he asked me again, so I responded. After a third round of the same question, we realized that he was in shock and wasn't in his right mind. Guillaume showed up in the van (he hadn't been behind us because he had been packing up the food into the van). There was no cell-phone reception where we were so they went back to the town where we had just left to ask where the nearest clinic would be. Steve decided to keep riding, knowing that he would end up being sore otherwise. We rode the rest of the way, not feeling too great. And then, the numbness began...

Me, Trevor, and Steve arriving in Penticton

We arrived in Penticton where we were met by Pierre and his wife. We had a nice dinner prepared, but I couldn't enjoy it because a) I'd been responsible for a serious injury, b) I'd just ridden 170km, and c) I couldn't feel my nether regions. I express this to Trevor who tells me that he once had numbness that lasted three and a half months. That's when I decided I should take the next day off.

Pierre post-accident
The 5th day was a quick ride from Penticton to Kelowna, so I didn't miss much. I used this spare time to do more reading about Craig and Mark Kielburger, and to start writing out the ideas I'd come up with for the piece. We were met at the local NBF branch by a good-sized crowd, and given a presentation from two girls who had done FTC trips. We were asked by an ex-employee of the bank to go on a boat ride/wakeboard.

 The 6th day was an 80km ride, and the team had grown to 14 people (not including Guillaume and Nathalie, the Velo-Quebec ride manager). This was the most beautiful ride of the trip. We were met by a large crowd in Vernon for a celebratory dinner and presentation. The two ride vans had to leave directly to Banff, and I was flying out of Kelowna so I was staying the night in a hotel. I met up with a friend from elementary school who lived in Vernon for the evening (I hadn't seen her in 8 years!)

Bikes in Vernon

Bikes. Lots of bikes.

I flew out the next morning from Kelowna to Victoria, Victoria to Toronto, and Toronto to New York. (It took me a while to finish this entry, so it's been a while since my opening sentence in Kelowna).

Gold Helmet. I don't mess around.
With Guillaume, mechanic-extraordinaire

Beginning of ride (with both vehicles)

Now, I'm on to the music. I've never spent so much time on a piece of music for this little output. The first movement is nearly finished, but it's subject to change drastically anyhow. I've let some of the band members know that the tour is coming up, but I'm in the early stages of getting everything organized. I'll be spending the time from now until the tour writing this piece, and we are set to record it in Montreal, put it up online and give half of the money we receive to Free The Children!

I've been listening to so much music in the last few months, and haven't listed them off. So here are the notable records, without any commentary, in no particular order:

Nico Muhly: Mothertongue
Nico Muhly: A Good Understanding
Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians
John Adams: Shaker Loops, Wound Dresser, Short Ride in a Fast Machine (Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra)
Bjork: Medulla
Radiohead: King of Limbs (and a lot of OK Computer, Hail to the Thief, In Rainbows, Kid A)
Ravel: String Quartet
Paul Moravec: Tempest Fantasy (and others)
Phillip Glass: Einstein on the Beach
Charles Ives: String Quartets #1 & 2
Brahms: 4th Symphony

I suppose that's enough for now, those are the ones that come to mind...

I had a fun gig at Rockwood Music Hall with Talia Billig's band recently, and the most memorable show I've seen since my return to NY has been "Chaos Manor".  The music/sound design was put together by my friends Dom Mekky and Levon Henry. This was the official description: 

"CHAOS MANOR is a live multi-disciplinary performance installation that seeks to capture the visual and sonic event of W. Eugene Smith’s 821 Sixth Avenue “jazz loft” endeavor 1957-1965"

This is what it looked like as a spectator:

Crowd from one of the "sets"
My brother Matt on bass, with good friends Levon Henry on tenor, Eric Read on drums, and Martha Kato on keys. This was taken inside the freight elevator that they played in during the performance, which was open on the exterior of the building.
Very cool evening, glad to have seen it!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The DBQ Tour (and the lead-up)

Firstly, I should apologize for the lack of material in the months separating this entry and the last one.  I got up to some amazing things, and there's no good reason not to have updated this blog.

This summer was basically musical hibernation. I left off the last blog post having just recalculated the events of the "big band" tour, after which I spent 2 months in Montreal, waiting for a visa to allow me back into the States.  On the gig front - many with hometown hero Bud Rice, Talia Billig came up north to play a couple of shows (including street hockey and poutine to initiate Dan Parra, the great bassist of that band to MTL life), a really fun gig with Marc Beland's Beat Project, some varied situations with Rick Rosato (holy shit, that's all I can say), a great NY return with Jeni Chandler (double-bill with Sam Anning's band!), among others.  I spent a great deal of time discovering new music, analyzing, and reflecting about the upcoming compositions I want to put down on paper (or computer, rather...)

Bud Rice and the Black Flies

Some notable events:
1) I got a job offer at my favourite record label, which didn't end up working out, but I was extremely flattered to have been considered.

2) I had a "lesson" with Ben Wendel when he was on tour in Montreal, which was a total eye-opener for me as far as my trajectory as a musician is concerned.

3) I've been making music alongside Dominic Mekky for a documentary being made by Todd Lambrix, a Parsons teacher, and Alexandra Garkavenko, a Parsons student.  The film follows the experience of 5 students at the New School, and will continue to do so over 4 more years.  I believe the premiere is in October, I will post the exact date when it's confirmed.

4) I went to Vancouver for a week to visit a dearly beloved.

5) I moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn.

5) I went on tour with Dillon Baiocchi's Quintet in California. That's what I'd like to talk about.

The band was/is:
Dillon Baiocchi - Alto (U.S.A.)
Me - Guitar (Canada)
Sami Bronowski - Tenor (France)
Max Esquivel - Electric Bass (Costa Rica)
Douglas Marriner - Drums (England)

Jonesy Photo Shoot

We left NY together on August 20th, arriving in Santa Cruz (land of the "gnarly") that evening.  Dillon's family friends (the Fitz's) had a little guest house in their backyard where we stayed.  The beginning of the week was spent playing a radio show (I forget the name of the network), playing a clinic at Soquel High School, rehearsing a ton, and exploring the city. This included beach hangs, going on a BYOB sailboat, BBQ's, going to the boardwalk (the famous Bronowski/Rollercoaster incident, you can ask me about it personally), and more BBQ's.

The first and most important gig was at the famous Kuumbwa Jazz Centre on the 25th.  Right before soundcheck we were invited to a studio right next door to have our pictures taken by an eccentric man named Jonesy.  The studio was massive, and FULL of lights, cameras, lenses, prints, gobos, ect.  Here's another one from that shoot:

Jonesy Photo Shoot

We proceeded to soundcheck, where Doug managed to convince the owners to let him play on the house Craviotto kit.

Drum-Gear-Nerd shot

 We played two sets to a wonderfully attentive audience, and a post-gig run-down confirmed that we all felt this was the best the band had ever sounded.  Dillon's music is many things; intricate, beautiful, dark, lyrical, polyrhythmic, the list goes on.  It's also very difficult.  It's taken many months for the band to sink into it's sound and act as one unit. This tour was the best way to get it together.  We were able to talk about our personal approaches to the music, where each of us felt comfortable and uncomfortable, and build a sense of musical trust within the band.  All summed up in an evening's work. It sounds that way on the recording as well.

Kuumbwa Jazz Centre w/ DBQ Quintet

Friday, we visited San Francisco and I met up with my good friend Sara Knox. Amazing city, it was too bad there was so much fog (I couldn't see Alcatraz or the Golden Gate Bridge).  Regardless, I had a blast walking around and getting a feel for the place. I know I'll be back soon.  Saturday night we played at a venue called Senzala, the gig went well but wasn't as well attended as we would have hoped.  We stayed the night in San Raphael, at another friend of Dillon's family.  I don't think I can stress this enough: we were treated like royalty the entire trip. Every meal was fantastic, everyone was generous and hospitable, and we moved from palace to palace (at least in my eyes).

Post-Senzala gig (Hence the sweat)

It became clear that with the effect of hurricane Irene, we would not be able to fly back to NY for several days.  We played a fun gig in Berkeley at Cioccolata di Vino, and afterwards walked around the Berkeley campus (where my friend Sara has just begun her doctorate).  The radio station had invited us back, where Dillon, in between performances, openly announced our availability to work due to the hurricane delay.  We managed to get another gig at the Bargetto Winery on the Wednesday, where in addition to monetary payment, we got loads of wine and a lesson in wine etiquette! The days in between were filled with more beaching, hiking, surfing, boardwalking, etc.  By the way, although this is uncommon for a local Santa Cruzian, we saw a whale, dolphins every time we went to the beach,  seals, sea lions, and sea otters.  The gig at the Winery went well, in addition to payment, we got a lesson in wine tasting, and an offer to be flown back for the big winery events!

Santa Cruz Sunset #1
Santa Cruz Sunset #2
We flew back on the Thursday without incident, re-listening to the recording of the show and further discussing the music.  The band is only going to continue to grow, and I know Dillon's music is evolving into a really unique sound and concept. I'm looking forward to more playing and touring with this amazing band.  On a side note, I've never laughed so hard in my life. Put a Frenchman and and Englishman together in the same room for more than a week and you're bound to get results.  This entry has taken me longer to write than expected, so I'm cheating, but look forward to the post about National Bank Financial's "Ride for Youth" which I was a part of! I will post listening suggestions at the end of that one (I have so many...)

Giant thanks to Dillon, Sami, Doug, and Max for this experience.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The (Mini) Tour

The decision to bring the big band out on a small tour came to Sammy Miller and I after receiving some news that came to me as a surprise regarding my plans in the upcoming year.  We had decided that bringing our projects out on the road would be the perfect start to what would be my first year out of school.  We met for lunch on April 17th and talked through the possibilities, prompting me to start making phone calls to my band members.  I had a few factors to work out:
1. I had just applied for a new visa, which would restrict my ability to travel.
2. The dates would only work if we started on the 14th of May, which happened to be the last weekend of the semester.
3. We only had 3 weeks to co-ordinate venues and musicians.
4. We didn't have a van large enough to accommodate 17 musicians, and as far as I knew, renting one was out of the question.
5. I had to finish up my school year (which would mark the completion of my studies at the New School.)
The task was daunting, but I knew I could make it work as long as I had the right people with me. I bounced the idea off of my two instructors for the semester, Kirk Nurock and Ben Wendel, both of whom expressed enthusiasm and encouragement.

I would rather spare the details of the organization, as the plan changed (to my frustration) too many times for comfort.  I had a hybrid of the Montreal and NY bands, with "Sammy Miller and the Congregation" built in to my group, with the exception of Sammy and Adam Moezinia.  From Montreal I had Ben Deschamps on alto/flute/soprano, Carou Johnson on trumpet, Felix Del Tredici and Gab Gagnon on trombones. From NY I had my brother Matt Rousseau on bass, Arthur Hnatek on drums, Dominic Mekky on piano, Cody Rowlands, Ben Kreitman and Francesco Fratini on trumpets, Levon Henry and Sami Bronowski on tenors, and Sarah Safaie on bari.  This left some room for players from each city to play gigs without coming on the road with us.

I left New York on Thursday May 12th at 11pm after a 20th Century Classical History exam. I had to go to Montreal to get my father's car to bring back to NY in order to have room for all of the musicians and gear. We would also have Ben Deschamps and Dom Mekky's cars.  With me was my "significant other" Hannah for company. Anyone who has taken the NY/MTL bus knows that the experience is softened with someone else, which was amazing of her.  We got to the border at 7:30 and waited until 9:30 to leave.  Someone always neglects to be prepared and the whole bus has to wait.  We got home, ate, and packed the car for NY with a turnaround time of 2 hours.  We had a little hiccup right as we were leaving, as we found out that my father's car wasn't registered. My mom vowed to look for the registration paper, and we took off with the risk of traveling with an unregistered vehicle (I didn't mention this to anyone…)  We picked up Felix at McGill, and headed south.  When we got to the border, we had a stubborn guard who didn't like the fact that Felix had an instrument and few clothes with him.  After asking us questions for 10 minutes, she asked that we pull over due to a missing signature on my visa.  We waited for 45 minutes before being called up. The woman explained to me that getting my visa signed was pretty useless since it was expiring in 3 days.  I figured it wouldn't be worth an explanation, confronting border guards isn't a hobby of mine.  We got to New York late in the evening safe and sound.
Michael and Arthur
 Saturday I had to finish arranging a chart for our big event on the 17th (which I'll address later.)  Ben, Carou, and Gab got to New York at around 2:30, and decided to check out the city until the gig that night.  I finished the arrangement and met Sammy and Ben Kreitman (whom I had never met before) at a beer warehouse in the Lower East Side.  We were going to buy beer and sell it at the show that night for gas money.  I picked up more gear and went to the McKibbin Lofts in Bushwick, Brooklyn.  We were having the show at Ben, Nelsen, and Alex's loft, who were extremely generous in letting us use their home for the evening.  They all helped me setup, and the band started arriving.  We had Derek Ganong and Sam Neufeld on trumpets, Matthew Hartnett and Andy Sharkey on trombones, Yacine Boulares on tenor, and Michael Valeanu on guitar filling up the spots of musicians not coming on the road (some of them couldn't come for passport reasons, others had prior gigs/recordings to attend.) As a special bonus, my favourite people in their respected roles made it out: Dean Buck came to conduct, and Dan Ellis-Ferris came to sing. This also meant I could play guitar alongside Michael!  The show was just as much fun as the last loft show we had put on in December.  We played our set with the crowd jammed right up to where the musicians were playing, with dancing and hollering.  I have to admit I've never had as much fun playing with the band than in the back next to Arthur, Michael, Matt and Dom.  After we finished, "Sammy Miller and the Congregation" went on and played a great set, with everyone else dancing and participating in the music. They were joined by Josh Crumbly on bass, and Ben Flocks on tenor, both amazing players and human beings.  As people started trickling out, I began packing the car for the next morning, which was set to be an early departure.

Sammy Miller and the Congregation (with Ben Flocks and Josh Crumbly)
The plan Sunday morning was to meet at 8:30 in front of the New School.  I expected some exceptions.  Everyone was accounted for (Dom was woken up by a phone call, which wasn't surprising…) except for Adam.  We had joked the night before that he would be most likely to not wake up.  Sure enough, he had slept through his alarm so we decided to leave his guitar at the New School and depart without him after having waited an hour.  We made our way in three cars filled with people and equipment to Ithaca.  The car ride was filled with sharing of music and stories, and although most people had gotten 3 hours of sleep (myself included), we were all excited for the days to come.  Somewhere along the way, Adam had called Sammy to tell him he was on a bus to Ithaca. We didn't have room for him but he was already on his way…  We arrived in Ithaca right for our 2:30 soundcheck (the show was an afternoon performance).

Setting up at Bar 9 in Ithaca
 The venue was a student bar (Ithaca is a college town as far as I can tell, host to Cornell University) which has live music on weekends.  The sign in front had the listings of the previous weekend's acts, although we weren't mentioned.  We set up on the stage, barely fitting (even with our "reduced" big band) and waited for people to show.  It was rainy and finals week was coming up for the Cornell students which wasn't an ideal situation for us.  Groups of people started coming in, and we started to play.  My hunch at the time was that the student who had arranged the event simply hadn't advertised the show, and had convinced her friends to come.  I later had this confirmed by Sammy who spoke to her after we had left.  The band sounded good though, and I wasn't deterred in the slightest by having a small audience.  Sammy's band went up immediately after, with me subbing on guitar (Adam hadn't arrived yet).  Sammy has a natural ability to make audiences loosen up and laugh, which made his set really enjoyable for everyone there.  After his set finished, the people in my car and in Ben's car all decided that it would be best to drive straight to Montreal.  The musicians in Dom's car were tired of driving and wanted to stay the night in Ithaca.  As we were packing up the equipment, Adam showed up with his "other" guitar, a laundry bag, and a messy mohawk that he'd gotten the night before. Suffice it to say, it was hilarious.  We then had to tell him that there was no room for him or his stuff in any of the cars, and that he would have to take the train to Montreal the next morning…  If he had listened to what we told him (to go straight to Montreal and meet us there) none of this would have been a problem.  I have to add that if it been anyone but Adam this would have been a weird conversation.  The whole band laughed at him, and went back on the road.  The guys staying in Ithaca had their sleeping arrangements changed on them last minute, so they ended up sleeping on dorm room beds/couches/floors (Adam of course being the one on the floor).  We arrived in Montreal around midnight.

FACE performance (as people started coming in)
 Monday was my favourite day of the tour.  I woke up and offered everyone that came down to the kitchen St. Viateur bagels to prove my point about Montreal vs NY bagels.  The band members who slept in Ithaca had arrived by 1pm, having slept very little and needing rest.  With everyone in the house, we were able to leave as a unit down to FACE (Fine Arts Core Education) high school for a clinic/performance at 3pm.  We arrived and met up with the Montreal folk (Ben, Carou, Felix, Gab) and the others joining us until the following day.  We had Dom Rossi  on trumpet, Giacomo Smith on alto (Corey Armstrong played the Monday night gig), and a new addition Raymond on trombone.  Patricia (trombone) was only able to make the evening event.  I had contacted Carol Kay about a clinic, her response was enthusiastic and welcoming. She was my first "jazz band" teacher, allowing me to bring in my guitar over the trumpet and begin to take solos.  She is owed a tremendous amount of credit for the path I chose in music, and the level of musicianship I continue to work towards. (I recently saw a concert of my sisters where she played french horn in Carol's concert band, and was blown away by the performance.) We were in the P-Scene, which was once a pool now converted into a small theatre.  The students started drifting in around 3:30 and by the time we started playing, we had the most receptive and amazing crowd anyone can ever ask for.  Having been a FACE student, I knew to expect attentive and open students.  We played a couple of charts and opened the floor up to questions, all of which were a treat to answer (I wasn't prepared to hear such "heavy" questions, among them was "What inspires you and your music?" and "Do you find people respond differently to music in NY than elsewhere?)  We then invited students to come follow the music along with the band members, or to just sit/stand anywhere they chose to better see whatever they wanted.  I think the band sounded better at this performance than possibly ever. Maybe it was because we're not used to having so much focused attention from the audience. Whatever it was, I hope we can channel that energy again in the future.  After we finished, the comments from the students and faculty were tremendously touching, and I have to admit that having a staff member/friend come up to me in tears was pretty powerful.  The band went to grab food and beer during the break between the clinic and the performance that night.  I had to meet up with Lina and Nicte, my sisters friends who had written the song that I'd arranged for the Tuesday event.  I'd neglected to let them know how much I had changed the structure of the song, but they adapted quickly and after an hour they were ready for the following day.  I met up with the band, gave them the instructions to the gig, and went home to get gear with Levon, Dom, and Ben.  The show was at "Barfly", on St. Laurent and Rachel.  It's a great "dive" bar, which always has live music of different genres.  The band showed up slowly and we watched the opening act as friends and family started getting there (I hadn't seen many of them for months).  We went on just before 11, having setup really quickly and in an unconventional big band manner.  The music was different than usual. Arthur, my brother, and I had talked about the groove possibilities that were open to us in different sections and we kept trying new things.  The set was energetic and well received. Our Montreal audiences have a tendency to be really respectful and subdued, and this was no different.  I think Arthur really stole the show at this performance, I could see people's faces light up looking around during his drum solos.  Sammy's band went on right after ours, and a really great group of people stayed around for his set, which was awesome on a rainy Monday night at midnight.  Sammy brought up a singer friend of mine, Roxane Roy, as well as Cody Rowlands and Sami Bronowski as guests.  It was also great to sit back and watch Adam play with them, rather than having to fake my way through the music…  After packing up the gear, the whole band went out for poutine at La Banquise, joined by our good friend Rick Rosato.  The night finished with 11 people squeezed into my dads car on the way back to my parents house.  We also managed to fit 16 people into beds and couches, with one exception: Adam slept on the floor again…

 Tuesday started with me going to the Hilton hotel in downtown Montreal to check out the space and equipment for that evening's event.  This was our "anchor" gig of the tour.  We were playing a corporate event, which paid for all of our expenses, and a little pocket money for the band.  My father had contracted us for a "congress" of the National Bank of Canada.  The chart I had arranged the previous week was to be performed as a surprise for Craig Kielburger, who is the founder "Free The Children".  Anyone who's met Craig can vouch for the fact that he's possibly the most caring and generous human being on the planet.  His work has landed him 3 Nobel Peace Prize nominations… He's only 28!!!  I returned home from the equipment meeting to the musicians waking up.  After a late breakfast, I collected everyone into a room and ran down the chart for that evening.  We loaded the car and got dressed into our "fancy" clothes, and headed downtown to McGill.  There we met mostly everyone else on the gig, and convoyed to the loading dock entrance of Place Bonaventure.  We took a freight elevator to the back entrance of the gala room, and gathered in the "green room" for the setup.  We had one hour to soundcheck and run through the arrangement with Lina and Nicte.  After the soundcheck, we waited while some of the musicians played the "cocktail" portion of the meal (there were 600 employees in attendance).  We were called out to perform the "Free the Children" piece, which went off without a hitch.  Craig came over after to thank me and the girls, and invited us to play at the WE Day in Montreal in the fall, which would be an amazing experience! I'm looking forward to trying to make that happen.  We went back to the green room and waited an hour, until the comedian "Sugar Sammy" came out to do his set as the entertainment for the evening.  My father had told him not to hold back on any jokes, just to do his normal routine.  I had the band come watch from the back of the hall, and we were laughing the entire time (especially throughout his more "edgy" bits which weren't as well received from some of the company men and women).  After his set, we went on and performed a quick "Happy Birthday" for my father and played our material.  I've done many of these events, and learned that it's often best to just play the set and clear out.  There are always calls for old rock tunes, or people coming up to play air guitar no matter what the style of music or setting.  We had one intoxicated man come pretend to conduct the band and ask wonderful questions like "What's your favourite song?" and "Are you a real band?"  Since the conference had gone late, we performed later than expected.  This posed a problem for half of the band, who had to catch a bus at 11:45pm that night.  We finished our set at 10:40, and I rushed everyone with all of their equipment to two cars and sped down to the bus station.  We arrived with 20 minutes to spare.  I hugged everyone goodbye, with the immediate realization that I would not see some of my closest friends for a few months.  I went back to the hotel to get the rest of the gear, and a few of us went out for a celebratory beer.

Setting up for the corporate event
 All in all, I have to admit that this mini-tour was a huge learning experience.  I had a ton of fun playing the consecutive events and traveling from place to place.  Moving an entire big band around isn't the easiest task, but I will absolutely do it again as soon as I can.  I now have some time and space where I can write music, which is much needed (I'm back in Montreal for a couple of months for a visa reason).  I'm currently in Shawinigan in "isolation", spending some time reading, listening, thinking, running, and writing.  No internet, no phone, no people.  It's a pretty huge adjustment from Manhattan…

One of the large issues I've been dealing with is my self-imposed pressure to write new music that is "better" than my previous compositions.  Having read the autobiographies of John Adams and Miles Davis recently, I am encouraged at the prospect of trying things in my music that feel natural and current, over having to squeeze in elements of the "history" that is associated with a big band.  One of my mentors once shared with me an anecdote that has stayed with me over the years (I'll eventually laugh at myself for using the expression "over the years" at 21…).  He had been assigned a creative writing exercise that was open to any subject and narrative, essentially coming up with a short story of his choosing without any restrictions.  He had decided to write an army submarine story (much like The Hunt for Red October) and turned it in to his teacher, who told him it was well written but asked him what knowledge or experience he had with submarine life, the answer to which was obviously none.  I've felt kinship with this ideal since the beginning of my post-secondary musical education, and my ability to express it without coming off as dismissive has gotten me into some interesting discussions.  My question to listeners is this: if my group began to play repertoire of the 30's and 40's big band era, could it have cultural relevance for something other than a throwback to the music of those times?  I'm not in any way undermining the beauty and significance of that music. I'm constantly thinking about environment, time, and necessity to all works of art, especially when I write my own music.  Just a thought…

Also, previous to the tour I played a really fun duo gig with Jenny Szelag at the Brooklyn Lyceum!

Listening-wise: I've been checking out a lot of Aaron Copland's music, especially his "Third Symphony".  I've also been listening to Tigran Hamasyan's "A Fable" non-stop.  I'm not sure if I mentioned this in an earlier article, but Baths' album "Cerulean" has been a highlight for me in the last couple of months.  "12 Songs by Charles Ives" from Theo Bleckmann and Kneebody has also been playing a lot recently.  Lastly, but certainly not least, Keith Jarrett's "My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux".  That's all for now.  Thanks for reading this entire article!

The Notorious Adam Moezinia

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bachelor's Degree

It's been a while since my last update, so I have a lot to write about.  The last couple of months has been spent finishing up my Bachelor's degree at the New School, and has been filled with great gigs and concerts.  I played several gigs with Dillon Baiocchi's group, all of which were a blast. The music is really refreshing and the band members are awesome players and friends. I also had a chance to sub in "Sammy Miller and the Congregation" at Fat Cat which was a lot of fun. Other gigs included Andrew Mancilla's band at the Bitter End, Bud Rice's band at Grumpy's Bar in Montreal (as well as a surprisingly fun cocktail gig with my brother on bass and Rick Rosato on drums. Rick is the most badass bassist. Period. He also happens to swing really hard on drums, although no one knows this...)  I was asked to play with the big band at "The University of the Streets" in Alphabet City (my hood!!!) for a New School series curated by Chris Stover, who is a new addition to the NS staff, and he's already made himself one of the most valuable.  The gig went over well, although I have to admit that I'm not used to playing "concert" style shows with this band.  I like it when people are free to move around and yell at the band a little if they want. I had more trumpets than usual, due to a new addition to the NY band, Ari Bragi Karason.  Ari recently won the "Best Upcoming Artist" at the Iceland Music awards (yes, he's Icelandic) and is a wonderfully unique musician and human being.  Here's a snapshot of the evening:

Two days later was my Senior Recital at the New School.  My amazing family drove down from Montreal to come celebrate, and the turnout for the recital was better than I could have imagined.  It made me realize how many great friends I've made in my little time in NY.  I had the whole band + special guests play most of the large ensemble music that I've written in the last year or so.  The band was:
Rhythm Section: Me(!) - guitar Arthur Hnatek - drums, Matt Rousseau - bass, Dominic Mekky - piano.
Trumpets: Ari Bragi Karason, Cody Rowlands, Sam Neufeld, Linton Smith, Francesco Fratini, Derek Ganong
Trombones: Alfredo Marques, Kurtis Muller, Matthew Hartnett, Andy Sharkey, Erik Saras
Woodwinds: Ilia Skibiinsky, Dillon Baiocchi, Yacine Boulares, Levon Henry, Sarah Safaie
Special guests: Marc Beland - drums, Dan Ellis-Ferris - voice, Dean Buck - conductor

We had Blake Martin on lead trumpet, Freddy Gonzalez on trombone, Michael Valeanu on guitar, and JJ Wright on piano at the UOTS gig, but unfortunately they couldn't make the senior recital.

Couple of notes: I had never played my own guitar parts with the band before which was both exhilarating and kind of strange.  I was really fortunate to have Dean come in as a conductor for the rehearsals and the concert. I have to admit that my conducting skills are completely undeveloped. Dean is the man. If anyone needs a conductor, contact DEAN BUCK! I had to have Marc play drums with us, as I've made tons of music with him in the last couple of years, and watched/talked about too many Habs games to not have him on board.  He's a total badass as well, in my humble opinion.  I've been writing "songs" for the big band, and Dan was my guinea pig.  I'm loving the process, and the result so far is spot on to what I'm imagining it will turn out to be.  Dan is one of the few vocalists that I've ever met that can reproduce exactly what I ask of him.  (I know this entry is just me speaking really highly of everyone so far, but I'm just being honest...)

Aside from the big band performances, I've been rehearsing for and playing on the recitals of 3 great friends and singers at school. I've already played on Emma Love's recital, and Eleanor Howe's recital, and am looking forward to playing Talia Billig's.  I find the most joy in guitar playing accompanying singers than in anything else... Here's a shot from Emma's recital.

That's it for now...

Monday, April 25, 2011


The last couple of weeks have been busy.  Let me start at the top...

Like I mentioned in the last blog entry, the focus in February were the recordings at McGill with the Montreal band.  It started on Wednesday the 9th at midnight at the Port Authority bus terminal, with my charts in hand, my brother with his bass,  and my musical co-conspirator Arthur Hnatek.  If you've never taken the midnight bus from NY to Montreal (or any midnight bus for that matter), I can't say that it's my favourite trip in the world.  Having lived in NY for just under two years, I've taken this bus ride more than enough times to want to avoid it if necessary.  It's not so much the discomfort that bothers me, or the dysfunctional phone calls I hear people having at 4 am, I can live with that.  It's the stop in Albany, the stop at the Duty Free, the wait at the border (someone on the bus always neglects to bring a passport) which happen to always be right about when I manage to fall asleep. Needless to say, I didn't sleep much, but got to Montreal at 8:30 the next morning.

The session was set to start at 5pm, just like the last McGill "MMR" session last year.  The first little hitch in my plan was my complete lack of drums.  My Montreal drummer Liam Killen was on another gig, but I figured I would be able to borrow a drum set somehow. I called him and headed down to McGill to try and "borrow" one of the kits in the practice rooms, much to Arthur's disdain.  With Liam's help, I managed to get the better part of two separate kits down to the studio before anyone could complain.  We entered the studio to find a crew of about 8 technicians already setting everything up, with MVP of the trip Matt Baltrucki leading the way.  Both Matt and I had learned from the first MMR session, and as a result everything was ready to go before the musicians arrived at 8:30. We had another little hitch, although it was never explained to me, I believe on of my tenor/clarinet players Giacomo Smith had showed up to the session without his tenor sax... The recording began at 9pm sharp, the band being:

Rhythm Section: Arthur Hnatek - drums, Matt Rousseau - bass, Julian Gammon - piano, Marc-Andre Giroux - guitar

Woodwinds: Ben Deschamps, Corey Armstrong, Jarryd Torff, Giacomo Smith, Sayre Schultz

Trombones: Felix Del Tredici, Gabriel Gagnon, Geoff Cronin, Taylor Donaldson

Trumpets: Simon Millerd, Carou Johnson, Dom Rossi, Fred Bourgeault, Rachel Therrien

On a side note: I had never met Rachel, as she was subbing for the recording.  On the bus ride from NY to Montreal, I noticed a girl with a trumpet that I was sure I had seen at McGill before. I remember mentioning to my brother that it was probably her that was going to be on the recording. It was pretty funny seeing her walk in to the studio...

The plan was to record all of "Somewhere In There" (yes, that's the name of the blog...) which is a 4 part suite I wrote in the summer of 2010, as well as the piece for the art exhibit based on Edouard Manet's "Le dejeuner sur l'herbe" for Le Cegep du Vieux-Montreal.  The band had played these charts enough times for me not to have to work on anything, which was awesome.  We did a few takes of each movement, with a few breaks. Luckily, I had my friends Rasa Sam-Daliri and Roxane Loumede hanging at the session, and they were able to get so much needed coffee to the band.  Robert Del Tredici was once again among us, making the largest of his works to date! This is what came out of the session (notice the feet to the left of the picture to see how massive this really is...)

  The session wrapped up around 1am, which let the band members make the last night metros.  Here's a small clip from the session, recorded by Roxane just walking around during a take (the bass and guitar amps were isolated, and the electronic track was only in our headphones so they aren't being picked up by the camera.)

Friday was a day off, so I used it to show Arthur around parts of Montreal. Matt Baltrucki and I had decided to use our smaller studio session for certain overdubs and quick fixes on Saturday night starting at midnight.  For this I needed Simon Millerd, Jacquie Christen on flute, Julian Gammon, Ben Deschamps, and Fred Bourgeault, with Arthur and Matt (Rousseau) listening in.  The session wrapped up at 5am, with Simon being the brave one and going last.

I had a gig Sunday night in NY with Dillon Baiocchi's quintet, which meant leaving Montreal at 9am, this time extremely fortunate to have my mother driving us back and hanging for a couple of days.

Having recorded the beginning of "Le dejeuner sur l'herbe", I had just under a week to create the digital component. Here is what I sent in as the description of the piece:

"The concept for the musical piece came from what struck me as the most important quality of Edouard Manet's "Le dejeuner sur l'herbe"; the juxtaposition of the "traditional" components to the piece in relation to the artist's intentions. In other words, although the subject(s) of the painting are not unlike anything the public had previously seen, the context was pure innovation. I translated this notion into a musical idea by using the same framework for the entire piece: the merging of a "traditional" setting (big band instrumentation) with a digital transformation. The piece begins with just one idea, and is slowly expanded/broken down as the listener realizes the music is heading away from conventional expectation. In the painting, there are several deformed yet beautiful components such as the use of light, the fallen fruit basket, the disproportional size of the woman in the back, the naked woman sitting across from the clothed men etc. I tried to convey this emotion through the harmony, which I based on French Impressionist composers (mainly Maurice Ravel.) I believe Edouard Manet had every intention of dismembering the Realist tradition while embracing its themes, as many great innovators in art have done."

I wish I could have spent more time on it, but I had a deadline... The exhibit starts this Thursday (27th) until the 4th of March. Please check it out if you're in Montreal, I wish I could make it! There will be art of many mediums by 18 young Montreal artists. I had a blast writing for it, I look forward to writing music based on other works of art...


Besides all of that work (including work on several other projects that are too absurd to write about right now...), I had the chance to check out a bunch of great music, much different than what I wrote about in the previous blog post.  Upon coming back from Montreal, I was able to meet up with my good friend Austin Peralta, who just released his 3rd album, Endless Planets on the Brainfeeder label, which features Ben Wendel, Zane Musa, Hamilton Price, Zach Harmon, Dr. Strangeloop, and the Cinematic Orchestra with Heidi Vogel.

Tuesday the 15th I was invited by another good friend Emma Love to see John Adams' opera "Nixon in China" at the Met Opera. We were given tickets by Bob Hurwitz (Nonesuch Records, universal badass...) whom Emma works for.  Written in 1987, it is completely of our time, which is what I loved most about it. Musically, historically, instrumentally.

That Friday John Adams was conducting the Juilliard Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, and I made a quick call to another friend of mine, Adam Moezinia, who gets free tickets to Juilliard concerts by virtue of being a student there.  They played one of Adams' more recent works, "City Noir", which had mixed reviews from my peers, but I enjoyed it regardless.  They also performed "Don Juan" by R. Strauss, and Bela Bartok's "Dance Suite".

I also saw a show at the Blue Note, which I'd rather not elaborate on except to say that sometimes it takes a gig like that to appreciate everything else I get to see on a weekly basis.

That's it for now, I'll be posting the recordings of the McGill session online as soon as I get them!

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Beginning

The first blog entry is always the most awkward. I'll pretend this isn't it.

Here's what I've been up to.

December 10th 2010 marked the debut of the NY band at the McKibbin Lofts in Brooklyn, (thanks again to Pedro, Bennett, and Mercer for letting us use their spot!)  I had a blast putting the show together, mostly because I was able to get the band to play in the sort of event I wish I could attend every weekend.  We played our set starting around 11pm, which lasted just under an hour, and after the very last note I thanked everyone and put on Q-Tip's "The Renaissance" and let the rest of the evening take off.  In most cases, the denouement of a loft party/show is the trickiest to control, and we've all witnessed these get sloppy (for lack of a better word.)  This was NOT the case this time around. We pushed the chairs and stands back into the wall and an all-inclusive dance party began, leaving anyone with an I-pod to choose a track (once again, usually a TERRIBLE idea...) which turned out to be amazing.

This is just before the music began.

This is just after the music ended. (That's my brother/bass player extraordinaire gettin' some love...)

As I heard Adam Benjamin say yesterday (I'll address that in a second), it's nice to have been a part of a "jazz" show that didn't feel stodgy or conceited as the music was being performed, and end in a celebration of sorts.

I returned to Montreal for about a month, working on some "commercial" music for a while, and spent time at home for the holidays.  I decided to organize a show at the end of my stay with the MTL Big Band before leaving for New York.  I encountered some pretty interesting organizing conflicts, but managed to find a loft space on Mont Royal and Laval called "Le Space" which worked perfectly for the event (I have to give tons of credit to Julian Gammon (keys) for being my MVP that week.)  I had decided to feature my great friend and member of the NY band Arthur Hnatek for the show, and to use every resource available to me; this meant 6 woodwinds, 3 tenor trombones and 2 bass trombones, 5 trumpets, guitar, bass, piano, and 2 DRUMMERS! It was great to have the Montreal band together again, and the show went over well.  The audience was extremely attentive, to the extent where they didn't utter a single sound while the music was playing... Gotta love Montrealers!

MTL Big Band at "Le Space"
I'm now back in NY, and have some gigs lined up for the band here, but the main focus for the next month or so will be recordings at McGill with the MTL band! My buddy Matt Baltrucki is a Masters student in the Sound Engineering program at McGill University so we get the pleasure of working with him and his team in one of Canada's best live studios. I'm very excited about this project, as well as the smaller room recordings which I'm currently writing for, which will include singers, the big band, and electronics.

I've also been asked to write a piece of music for an exhibit at the CEGEP du Vieux Montreal. The exhibit is going to be a group of artists in several mediums creating a work based on Edouard Manet's "Le Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe".  The opening of the gallery is on the 25th of February, so I'll keep everyone updated!


That's enough about my own music for now... One of the main reasons I've decided to start this blog is to share the music that I've been hearing which fuels my writing.  I'm often asked what style of music I make and the truth is: I have no idea.  I think the only way to make any sense of it (at least for me) is to look around at the musical community that I'm fortunate to be a slight part of. This past week of shows in NYC is probably the best approximation of this that I can come up with for the time being.

I got back in to the city on the 20th of January, and on the 21st I kicked off the 2011 live music concert series with my friends Snarky Puppy at Rockwood Music Hall.  Mike League and his band had a residency every Friday night at this amazing LES venue,  and they had decided not to play any original music and instead, invite guests to perform their material with them.  On that night, we got to hear Gordon Chambers, Mikal Evans, Shayna Steele, and Jason Marsalis.  I always have a good time bringing friends to see them for the first time just for the reaction on their faces.  I managed to catch the last of their series the following Friday as well, the highlight of which was hearing Ari Hoenig sit in for a couple of tunes.

A friend of mine mentioned that Martha Wainwright was going to be playing at Rockwood Music Hall (Stage 1, the smaller of the two venues) for free so I headed down early Monday night to ensure a spot.  I got there just in time for the venue to pack up and for a line to form outside (I can't imagine that it holds more than 70 people.)  Sure enough, Martha showed up with a guitar and performed for an hour. Her explanation for booking these gigs at Rockwood was that she had willed it upon herself to write a song every week, and to prepare unfamiliar solo material for an upcoming project.  I've always been a fan of the entire Wainwright clan, and hearing Martha in such a raw situation was as amazing as I expect any Wainwright show to be.  She made tons of slip ups with the chords, forgot words to songs quite a few times, which didn't detract in the slightest how much I loved this show (in fact, it probably enhanced it.) She is an incredible songwriter, and I'm glad I got to see her while being in the process of writing for female voice. I also sneaked over to Rockwood (Stage 2) briefly after her set to watch Jason Lindner's band.  I've seen them many times, and I'll always go see Mark Guiliana if I have the chance... I will definitely be back early tomorrow for another installment of Martha's weekly gig. I'd like to re-iterate that these shows were FREE!

Wednesday night was a rarity for my usual NY musical excursions for two reasons: 1) I went to Carnegie Hall, and 2) I saw Brad Mehldau play an entire concert solo.  I don't think I need to say much about this show, because the event speaks for itself.  We had the amazing opportunity to hear him play Brahms followed by his own compositions throughout the first half (with Brad speaking after every second piece about the harmony, structure, etc.)  I missed an audition for an ensemble by going to this show, and I don't regret it at all. He's an incredible inspiration to me and my writing, and I can't think of many musicians on the planet that I respect as much as this man.

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were another NY rarity, and one that I looked forward to ever since the last 4 day series last year.  KNEEBODY! I missed the first night of the series because I was at the Mehldau concert (poor me...) which featured Wayne Krantz.  Thursday night featured Busdriver, Friday night featured Busdriver AND Mark Guiliana, and Saturday night featured Daedelus (with Mark Guiliana as a secret guest), and Tim Lefebvre subbing on bass (Kaveh, the regular bassist was on tour with someone else.) This band is where it's at.  Period.  The good folks over at Search and Restore (I'll definitely write about them in future posts) set up this event in Park Slope at a venue called Southpaw.  Here's what it looked like:

Kneebody w/ Busdriver and Mark Guiliana
  These guys are doing it right.  The shows all had this amazing energy in the crowd, which I think the band was feeling as well.  It's not often that I get to see a "jazz" show where everyone is standing shoulder to shoulder in front of the stage, or you get to hear the most rhythmically interesting hip-hop artist or an incredible live electronic artist being backed by a live band.  Once again, these guys are huge inspirations of mine, and I already can't wait until they perform again.

8 days of music, each act/musician gave me something to think about for my own music.
 I highly recommend checking out this roster if you haven't already.

The next few weeks should be very interesting, I'm looking forward to attempting to execute my plans as they've been sketched out, which I can almost guarantee will not. Just like Martha Wainwright's set, I'd much rather they aren't.