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...