All posts by Ian

Interview Excerpt: On “Definitive Versions” of Tunes and Playing Fast

Here’s another excerpt from my interview in Thomas Erdmann’s book How Jazz Trumpeters Play Music Today. (Part 1 is here. )

On “Definitive Versions” of Tunes

TE: When I interviewed Chris Botti he said that after Wynton Marsalis recorded “Cherokee” no one else should ever record that tune. I beg to differ, and your recording of “Cherokee” [from Duocracy with pianist Ben Stolorow) proves my point. You found a unique and original way to approach the difficult changes by playing a series of wonderfully connected short motives before you work yourself into serving as an accompanying voice to Ben’s solo… When approaching such defining moment standards, such as “Cherokee,” how do you recommend young trumpeters approach the music in order to make a personal statement?

IC: That’s a good question. It’s interesting Botti said that about Wynton, because if you follow that logic, then Wynton shouldn’t have played it because of what Clifford (Brown) did! But thankfully he did because his recording is pretty amazing. By the way, Wynton probably shouldn’t record it anymore either, because he already set his own high watermark!

This sounds a little cliché, but I think for “Cherokee” or “Giant Steps,” —any of those watershed tunes that are really hard and you have to practice the hell out of—that the answer is that you have to learn them so well you can forget them. I would not have tried to record “Cherokee” 15 years ago, or I might have, but it would have sounded pretty self-conscious.

I talk about this with friends of mine sometimes, where you hear a someone playing along, swinging, then you hear something that sounds like a new lick they just learned. They put the lick in the middle of the solo and it sounds totally prepared and out of context; it doesn’t fit. The solution to that is you need to get tunes like that to a point where it is in the subconscious and subsumed into your musical language. When I listen to our version of “Cherokee,” the thing I’m most happy about is how little it sounds like we’re trying to impress anybody.

For tunes like that, the flag-wavers, as one of my old teachers, the great drummer Michael Carvin, said, there are different ways to approach solos. You can start simple and build; or you can take one motive and develop it; or as he said, “You can come in doin’ it, and keep on doin’ it.” I think that’s great, if players are really at that level. For me, I didn’t want it to ever feel like it was a fast tune. Some of the reviews of that recording said we were playing that tune at a “leisurely tempo,” or something like that—but it’s not at a leisurely tempo! We did it at something close to 300 beats per minute. That was gratifying, to me, that it didn’t sound like it was fast. I think the reason for this was because we both internalized it to the point where we forgot about the tune. When you’re able to forget a tune, you can be surprised, and stumble on things, more so than if you are really conscious of the tune as you’re playing it.

On Playing Fast

TE: Talking about playing fast, on “Cherokee” you also play some beautifully constructed improvised contrapuntal lines with Ben after his solo, not to mention the ripping fast notes that are absolutely locked in the rhythmic pocket. You also play fast flawlessly on “Tom/Tom” from Contextualizin’, and rip it up on your Interview Music CD as well. How do you practice in order to be able to play as fast you do, yet still play so cleanly and rhythmically perfect?

IC: Thank you. This goes back a little to what I said about swing earlier, in that I realized, when I was learning lines back in my 20s, that you really want to practice that stuff evenly. I remember Claudio Roditi came to The New School when I was there. His chops were so fluid, clean and smooth. He was giving people a hard time when we were playing Brazilian tunes about how they were swinging too much. He said, “No, no, play straight, play even.” These were kids who had heard all of the (Stan) Getz records; to me Getz doesn’t sound very Brazilian on them. I remember after that going back to my line practicing—like everyone else I was learning ii-Vs and transcribing Wes Montgomery solos and so on—and taking Roditi’s lessons to heart; trying to practice playing lines perfectly evenly from super slow to fast. If you’re trying to learn something and you start at a slow tempo and are swinging it and not playing evenly, then by the time you get it up to a fast tempo it’ll be a jumbled mess. … I also feel like I don’t sit on fast lines for a long time. I like to use them as a color, throw that color and texture out there, let it sit there and allow people to think about it, and not just have a solo be a constant string of fast notes. If you are judicious about playing fast notes they become more effective than if you’re just burning eighth-notes all the time.

“How Jazz Trumpeters Play Music Today” Excerpt: On Practicing

A couple of years ago I was asked by author and trumpeter Thomas Erdmann to participate in an interview for his book How Jazz Trumpeters Play Music Today, along with 11 other players of varying renown including Christian Scott, Wadada Leo Smith and the late (great) Ted Curson.

We had a very interesting conversation covering a lot of ground, but since the book has been out for a while, and isn’t in a price range where most people can afford to pick up a copy (currently around $200, which I guess is the norm for academic publishing these days), I asked Dr. Erdmann for permission to post a few excerpts, which I’ll be posting in bits and pieces. Here’s the first:

On Practicing…

One can’t help but know, in listening to you, that it’s obvious you practice the trumpet; people don’t just pick up the trumpet and sound like you do without putting in the time. What does a practice session of yours look like these days?

Thank you—it has not been a straight-line journey as I’m sure any musician in their middle age will tell you. I went through years of really difficult embouchure challenges that I think were formative for me. I was late in getting serious about practicing. I played the French horn up until high school, and didn’t get serious about practicing the trumpet until I was 16 or so. But at that first burst of trumpet interest things came really easy. I had high chops even though I wasn’t doing it in a healthy way; using lots of pressure and making all of the usual mistakes. In college I was unsatisfied with the pace of my progress and felt I had to move things along faster, so I was going to fix my embouchure for good. At the time I played out of the side of my mouth and so I decided I was going to move my embouchure by playing right in the middle of my chops. That would be the secret to finding a shortcut. Instead of being a shortcut it ended up being 10 years of wandering in the wilderness where I could not count on anything from day to day. It was tough, and there were many times I was on the verge of quitting.

There were some really positive things that came out of this like discovering late Chet Baker after his chops got smashed. I learned how much music there is to be made even if your body is not at its best that day. As messed up as he got he never lost that amazing gift for melody and swing. There is a version of But Not For Me he did on The Touch Of Your Lips where he plays a trumpet solo and then scats a solo and there’s almost no difference in feel between the two of them. The trumpet and the chops have nothing to do with what he was doing musically at that time; he was “letting a song go out of his heart” if you will. To me, that was a valuable lesson. … As things started to slowly get better with the help of teachers as well as dumb luck, and as I worked my chops back to regularity—it’s easy to kick myself over that detour—but as I came back to chops normality after having learned all of these lessons about music, the trumpet and my chops, I think it took all of that mess to be at the level of self-knowledge that I am now in terms of how my chops work and how to play.

I forget who said it, but the saying goes, “There are two things you should work on, stuff you’re good at and stuff you’re not good at.” The reason is that on the stuff you’re not good at you need to develop it, but with the stuff you’re good at you also want to work on it because it will become your sound, your thing. You don’t want to stop working on things you do well, you want to build on those things.

April Update: CJC Workshop, Asian-American Orch. at SFJAZZ, ESO

Hello folks! It’s been a happily busy musical spring so far (in spite of the daily horrors of the news), and I wanted to let you know about a few upcoming events.

CJC Workshop: Fluency in All 12 Keys

This Sunday (4/9) at 11:30am I’ll be at California Jazz Conservatory/Jazzschool in Berkeley, kicking off the Contemporary Jazz Improvisation Workshop Series, a four-part educational series for musicians featuring different local players exploring a variety of topics. My focus will be “Developing Fluency in All 12 Keys,” and I’ll be looking at several strategies  for getting comfortable in the intimidating key signature-hinterlands. Open to anyone with basic knowledge of jazz theory, and also available on a single class-basis. Registration info here.

Asian American Orchestra at SFJAZZ Poetry Festival Sunday (4/9)

Sunday evening at 8pm, I’m excited to be joining Anthony Brown’s Asian American Orchestra and SFJAZZ Poet Laureate Genny Lim at the Joe Henderson Lab as part of the SFJAZZ Poetry Festival. We’ll be performing our updated version of Max Roach’s We Insist: Freedom Now Suite (with new poetry by Lim). Information and tickets available here.

ESO in San Francisco (4/16)

On Easter Sunday evening (4/16) from 6:30-9pm, I’ll be back with the indomitable Electric Squeezebox Orchestra (directed by Erik Jekabson), which has been holding down its residency at Doc’s Lab in North Beach for over two years, performing only original arrangements by members of the band and other local composers (like me!). We’ll be joined by a special quest, the phenomenal clarinetist Ben Goldberg. More info here.

Finally, for no reason other than that it’s good, here’s some video from my performance last month with the Adam Shulman Sextet. Enjoy!

IC Quintet+1 in Healdsburg, Takoyaki 4 in SF

 

Hi folks! Two shows coming up that I’m excited about. First up is Thursday, Feb. 23, when the Ian Carey Quintet+1 (with Kasey Knudsen, Adam Shulman, Fred Randolph, Hamir Atwal, and me) will be performing at the after-party for the Healdsburg Jazz Festival’s “Jazz on the Menu” fundraiser. Opening up for us will be the Healdsburg High jazz band. The details:

WHAT: Ian Carey Quintet+1 & Healdsburg High School Jazz Band
WHEN: Thursday, February 23, 7pm
WHERE: Costeaux French Bakery, 417 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg
TICKETS: Available here

Then, Saturday, February 25, my group TAKOYAKI 4 (the Takoyaki 3 organ trio of Adam Shulman and Hamir Atwal, plus special guest saxophonist James Mahone) will be making our first appearance at the great local home for jazz Bird & Beckett Books in San Francisco. We’ll be playing original music by members of the group plus some jazz rarities.

WHAT: Ian Carey’s TAKOYAKI 4 featuring James Mahone
WHEN: Saturday, February 25, 8pm
WHERE: Bird & Beckett, 653 Chenery St, San Francisco
TICKETS: $10 donation requested

I hope to see you there!

Workshop Feb 18 in Berkeley: Triad Pair Scale Improvisation

Hi folks, I’m going to be offering a workshop on February 18 (at 11:30am) at California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley on triad-pair-based scales and how to use them. (That sounds more complex than it really is, but these scales have become a big part of my own language.)

Here’s a short video with a little preview:

The workshop is open to anyone with basic knowledge of jazz harmony and you should definitely bring your instrument. You can find out more about the class and register here.

GIGS: Ian Carey Quintet+1 at SFCMC, February 17

Well: it’s been a rough start to the year for pretty much everyone, and I would be lying if I said there weren’t times that music seemed like a minor and self-centered pursuit. But that’s exactly why it’s been a welcome break to let myself get very excited about a show coming up this month.

It will be my first gig as a leader working with the great local organization Jazz in the Neighborhood, which was founded by trumpet legend Mario Guarneri and  has been producing a wide variety of shows featuring Bay Area artists for several years (I’ve been fortunate to be on several as a sideman including with the Electric Squeezebox Orchestra and various guests). JITN’s M.O. includes guaranteed wages for the musicians (a lifesaver and unfortunately a rarity these days) and features emerging artists for portions of each performance; they’re doing it right and I sincerely hope they will be around to enrich the community of artists and listeners for a long time.

This will also be my first performance at Community Music Center, and my first San Francisco show as a solo leader in quite a while (although S.F. is in the Quintet+1’s DNA—we got our start at The House of Shields, after all). I’m thrilled to have the band together again, this time with two special guests. First is the amazing Hamir Atwal on drums—I’ve been lucky to have quite a few opportunities to play with Hamir over the past year or so, and every one of them has been an adventure. We’ll also be joined for the first time by amazing multi-reedist and recent local repatriate Steven Lugerner, who will be filling in the Sheldon Brown chair on bass clarinet and baritone sax (!). The group will be rounded out by the outstanding usual suspects Kasey Knudsen on alto saxophone, Adam Shulman on piano, Fred Randolph on bass and me on trumpet.

The show will begin with an opening set featuring two excellent local student players (backed by Fred, Adam, and Hamir), and then we’ll be performing selections from our past three albums, including works from Interview Music (2016), Roads & Codes (2013), and Contextualizin’ (2010), some of which have never been performed in Quintet+1 format before! Here are the details:

WHAT: The Ian Carey Quintet+1
WHEN: Friday, February 17, 8pm
WHERE: Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, San Francisco
TICKETS: Available here

Finally, for no reason at all, here’s a video of me playing Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”—I recorded this to help demonstrate my qualifications for teaching a class about that gnarly tune last month. I’m also offering a workshop on improvising with triad pairs (a very fun and interesting way of dealing with a variety of chord changes) on  February 18, check it out!

New Year’s Update: Gigs + Workshops: Berkeley, SF, Vallejo, Healdsburg

Hello folks! It’s been a stressful couple of months, but I’ve been trying to Be Like Bob (above) and channel it all into the music. The end of 2016 brought some gratifying mentions of my album Interview Music in year-end top ten lists, including The Mercury News (“an exquisite balance between [Carey’s] ambitious compositional vision and his design to showcase his superlative cast of improvisers”) and Bird is the Worm. And I feel fortunate to have some exciting events coming up, including…

Bryan Bowman Quintet in Berkeley & Vallejo

This introspective group plays the swinging, forward-thinking music of drummer and composer Bryan Bowman (you can listen to a track from our 2015 album Like Minds here), and features some of my favorite players: Bob Kenmotsu on tenor sax, Matt Clark on piano (and Luke Westbrook on guitar), and John Wiitala (and Dan Feiszli) on bass. We’re going to be playing twice this month: on Saturday, January 14 at 8pm we’ll be at the great new Berkeley venue The Back Room ($15); and on Sunday January 15 at 5pm we’re at the historic Empress Theater in Vallejo ($20), sponsored by the Vallejo Jazz Society.

Other local shows this month: Don Alberts’ Renaissance Band at 7 Mile House in Brisbane on Tuesday January 24, and Tony Corman’s Morchestra with Nic Bearde at Bach Dancing & Dynamite in Half Moon Bay on Sunday January 29th at 4:30p.

Jazzschool Workshops: Giant Steps & More

For those of you who are students of the music (of any age): I’m offering two workshops at California Jazz Conservatory’s Jazzschool Community Music Program’s spring session:

Stepping Into Giant Steps (January 21): A two-hour deep dive into one of John Coltrane’s most famous and challenging compositions, geared towards taking the fear out of those gnarly chord changes.

Modern Improvisation: Triad Pair Scales (February 18): Want to learn to navigate familiar chord changes in an interesting new way? This workshop takes a deep dive into the technique of creating and using versatile six-note scales by combining pairs of triads.

And just a reminder: I’m also available for private lessons!

Coming in February: IC Quintet+1 in Berkeley & Healdsburg, Takoyaki 4 in SF

I’m thrilled to have two opportunities to play with my Quintet+1 (Adam Shulman, Sheldon Brown, Kasey Knudsen, Fred Randolph, plus special guests Hamir Atwal and Steven Lugerner) next month:

  • On February 17, we’ll be at The Back Room in Berkeley for an event sponsored by the great local organization Jazz in the Neighborhood.
  • On February 23, we’ll be playing at the after-party for “Jazz on the Menu” at Costeaux in Healdsburg, presented by the Healdsburg Jazz Festival.

I’m also looking forward to playing with my organ-based group Takoyaki 4 (Adam Shulman on organ, Hamir Atwal on drums, and special guest James Mahone on tenor) at local institution Bird & Beckett Books in San Francisco on February 25.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you soon!

September Update: Nathan Clevenger Group, Ian Carey Quintet+1 at SFMusic Day, ESO

Hello folks! Here’s an update about some upcoming performances I’m really excited about. Hope to see you at some of them!

Nathan Clevenger Group in Oakland
This Thursday night (9/1) in Oakland, I’m thrilled to be playing again with one of my favorite bands—the Nathan Clevenger Group (“includes many of the scene’s leading figures, but he’s created a sound that stands out from the crowd… he makes brilliant use of the many colors at his disposal.” –Andrew Gilbert, KQED). In addition to Nathan’s guitar and compositions, this version of the group includes Kasey Knudsen on alto sax, Rachel Condry on bass clarinet, Jason Levis on drums, Lisa Mezzacappa on bass, Tim DeCillis on vibraphone, and myself on trumpet. The show is at Octopus Literary Salon in downtown Oakland, a cozy cafe that’s been putting on some extraordinarily happening shows. (The show starts at 8, and the opening act is Bristle, another astounding chamber music-meets-free improvisation unit.) More info about the show here.

Ian Carey Quintet+1 at SFMusic Day
For the past few years, the great local arts organization San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music has been presenting an annual day full of free chamber music at the SF Veterans Building, and this year, on Sunday, September 25, I’m very happy to bringing my Quintet+1 to participate (along with a cast of hundreds including heavy hitters like Kronos, Rova, Myra Melford & Ben Goldberg, and many more). We’ll be playing a half-hour set at 3:30 in the Education Studio. More info here.

Electric Squeezebox Orchestra Meets Brazil!
I’m also excited to be playing several times this month with the Electric Squeezebox Orchestra, SF’s great original big band, back at Doc’s Lab in North Beach after their summer break. Sunday, September 4, I’ll be performing with the band, playing their usual (but unusual!) assortment of music all written by members of the band (including me!). The following Sunday, Sept. 11, we’ll be joined by special guest the Brazilian saxophonist Spok (aka Inaldo Cavalcante de Albuquerque), performing the music called Frevo, which he has pioneered in Northern Brazil. More about this show here.

Also…
A reminder that my new album, Interview Music (“an incredible piece of music… a superlative work.” —Brad Stone, The Creative Source, Soul and Jazz Radio), is now available on CDBaby, Amazon, and iTunes.

And just because, here’s a video of an improvised duet that my friend the great trumpeter Darren Johnston and I recorded before a gig last month at opposite ends of the huge Festival Pavilion building at Fort Mason (with its 8-second reverberation). Enjoy!

Improvised Duet, Darren Johnston & Ian Carey, trumpets. Festival Pavilion, Ft. Mason, San Francisco, August 21, 2016.

June News: Have You Heard, AAO Plays Roach, Jazzschool Classes

Hello folks! I’m just writing to tell you about a few musical things I’ve got going on in the near future.

Have You Heard?

This Monday night I am very happy to be featured on one of my favorite radio shows, Have You Heard?, hosted by the great saxophonist Patrick Wolff. Each week Patrick does a deep dive on the work of a single artist (usually someone on the less well-known side) in a way rarely heard on this coast. For this show we’ll be hearing tunes from several of my albums (plus an unreleased track of a work for big band) as well as having some conversation about the jazz world in my usual curmudgeonly fashion. You can hear the show Monday at 9pmon KCSM; the show will be also be available for one week after at the Have You Heard? website.

Jazzschool Classes

I’m happy to be offering three classes this summer as part of California Jazz Conservatory’s Jazzschool summer session, geared toward intermediate musicians of all ages:

  • Demystifying Coltrane Changes: A deep look into how to take the fear out of learning daunting tunes like Giant Steps and Countdown, including theory, listening and in-class playing. More info here.
  • Counterpoint & Beyond: An introduction to one of my favorite compositional toolboxes, with an eye toward real-world contemporary and jazz applications. More info here.
  • Modernize Your Language: A look at three ways to take the next step beyond bebop and mode-based improvising, with an eye on integrating with the student’s existing language, through theoretical discussion and in-class playing. More here.

If you or someone you know might be interested, please check out the links above to find out more and register. Class space is limited! (And a reminder: I’m also accepting new private students in trumpet, improvisation, composition, ear training and harmony.)

Asian-American Orchestra Performances

This weekend and next, I’ll be making my debut with percussionist & composerAnthony Brown’s Asian-American Orchestra. The group consists of an eclectic (in a good way!) mix of western and eastern instruments including shakuhachi and sheng (Chinese mouth organ) as well as a burning jazz ensemble. For these performances we’ll be joined by the Ojalá Batá percussion ensemble, plus poet Genny Lim and vocalist Amikaelya Proudfoot Gaston. We’ll be performing original works by Brown as well as a new realization of Max Roach’s classic Freedom Now Suite (you all know I don’t do plain old tributes).

We’ll be doing two performances this Sunday June 5 at the San Francisco International Arts Festival at Fort Mason, followed by a show on Saturday June 18 at Musically Minded Academy in Oakland. Hope to see you!

Also…

I’m happy to announce that I am among the lucky crop of grant recipients for San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music’s 2016 Musical Grant Program, to compose a set of pieces for my brand new 7-piece ensemble Wood/Metal/Plastic, premiering next year. And just a reminder that my new album Interview Music (“complex chamber music with solo space” – Doug Ramsey, Rifftides) is now available on CDBaby, Amazon, and iTunes. You can hear a free track from the album below. Thanks!

New Reviews for Interview Music + Bonus Track

Interview Music, the new album from my Quintet+1, is officially out there, and some very gratifying reviews have been coming in.

First, from Doug Ramsey at the great music blog Rifftides:

In the articulate liner notes for his fifth album, Carey explains that he writes music not to label it “about something” in order to snag foundation grants, but to employ what he’s learned and make it work for him and his players. Interview Music does that. Even better, it works for the listener. … His sextet plays the five-part suite with drive, wit, swing and a palpable unity of purpose. It is complex chamber music with solo space for Carey, long an impressive trumpeter; bass clarinetist Sheldon Brown; alto saxophonist Kasey Knudsen; pianist Adam Shulman; bassist Fred Randolph; and drummer Jon Arkin. They are among the cream of the Bay Area’s jazz community. In a victory for his creative policy, the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music supported Interview Music with a grant despite its not being “about something,” which, of course, it is. It’s about music.

From The Jazz Page:

[Carey] has returned with an ambitious new recording that succeeds in its effort. Interview Music is a fantastic suite that sees some of Carey’s most adventurous writing matched with truly outstanding performances. … While the production is one of some range, it is accessible, even as weaves and winds its way forward. … Carey’s writing affords each of his fellow players many moments to exhibit their depth of talent, and in the process, allows the entire project to shine.

And a listener left this very thoughtful review on the album’s iTunes page:

Very inspiring to hear this kind of sophisticated composition and playing coming out of the Bay Area. As an ex professional trumpet player who grew up in Bay Area and studied and played in NYC, this is really the first time I’ve encountered such a high degree of post-bop compositional creativity and craft come out of the Bay Area with the exception of Joe Henderson of course. Also very fine playing all-around, with a special shout out to Ian who is obviously a really accomplished trumpeter and improviser.

The album also got mentions from Marc Myers’ Jazzwax (“this abstract original suite for quintet led by trumpeter Carey has classical overtones”) and Tom Hull (“a sprawling suite with four parts and an interlude, a fine example of postbop composition and arrangement”). It’s great to know people are giving it a listen, 15-minute tracks and all!

Finally, here’s another sample track from the album, the interlude and first half of the fourth movement. If you’d like to hear more, please pick up a copy for yourself!