Category Archives: Thoughts

Vibing, Part II: Vibable Offenses

michelle_stink_eyeWhile I’m in my “not here to make friends” mode (see my previous post, The Case for Vibing), I thought it would be helpful to elaborate by sharing a few examples of behaviors I (and many of my fellow musicians) consider to be deserving of a serious vibe-down. Context (open jam session vs. regular gig with guests vs. sideman gig, etc.) is important, and not all are equally vibe-worthy, but if you engage in any of these actions there’s a really good chance you’ll find yourself on the midnight train to Vibeville. Let’s begin!

  • Losing the form on a blues (bad as a soloist, worse as an accompanist)
  • Losing the form of a tune while reading the chord changes off your phone
  • Texting/sexting on the bandstand
  • Acting like a bandleader while sitting in (e.g. trying to dictate solo order, trading, or other similar micromanagement–this is worse when sitting in on someone else’s gig than on a more chaotic jam session)
  • Not knowing what key you sing a song in
  • Fumbling through the melody of a tune before the tune has started (Either you know it or you don’t. Don’t give it away. Especially don’t do this before the band has agreed on the tune)
  • Noodling behind someone else’s solo (I’m not talking about purposeful accompaniment, although you probably shouldn’t do that either unless you know the person soloing well and know they don’t mind that). Everyone can hear you, especially the soloist, and they will drop a vibe bomb on you when they’re done like you wouldn’t believe
  • Calling any of the following tunes: My Funny Valentine, Summertime, The Girl from Ipanema, My Way, Chameleon, Take Five, Freddie Freeloader (unless it’s your gig, in which case knock yourself out but be sure to get some tips)
  • Calling a tune which the band finished playing less than 30 minutes ago
  • Asking someone in the band “What tune is this?” while they’re playing and you are not (goes double for when you are playing)
  • Calling a tune with a very notey bebop head but then not playing the melody yourself  (piano players, looking at you)
  • Calling an obscure tune (not a problem in itself) but having no backup choice if the band doesn’t know it
  • Cutting off someone’s solo on someone else’s gig
  • Requesting something be played as a funk tune (unless it’s a band which regularly plays funk)
  • Calling the same one or two tunes every time you sit in on every gig (and making the same mistakes every time)
  • Playing many choruses on a tune you obviously don’t know either the changes or the form to, hoping you’ll eventually get it (which usually results in ending your final chorus in the wrong place).  As your high school band director said, practice at home!

But just for fun and in the interest of running the Vibe-o-rail in both directions, here are some poorly-executed vibing behaviors which may result in a serious counter-vibe:

  • Vibing the house band on a gig you’re being invited to sit in on (for pretty much any reason!)
  • Vibing the bandleader on a gig he/she hired you for (sometimes this is indeed necessary, but you better be prepared to never get called again)
  • Vibing someone in the band for not knowing that difficult tune (26-2, Slings and Arrows, Countdown, something by Kurt Rosenwinkel) that you really want to show off on–come on, you can show off on something everybody knows (unless your licks are all for that particular tune! Vibe alert!)
  • Vibing someone for not wanting to play in 7/4 or a weird key at a jam session (unless those are a normal expectation of said session)
  • Vibing someone who’s got a good attitude and is looking for pointers (save your vibes for the truly deserving!)
  • Vibing someone for playing the Miles version of “Well You Needn’t” instead of the Monk version, or vice-versa
  • Vibing your fellow-sufferers on an already awful gig
  • Vibing the band by introducing yourself and saying, “I usually play more modern stuff than you guys” (true story!)
  • Vibing the entire band for not being on your level (maybe that is not the right band for you to be playing with?)
  • Vibing someone for vibing you over your excessive vibing

Got more? Throw ’em in the comments!

The Case for Vibing

Today the jazz musician and blogger Camden Hughes has a post (“Why Vibing is Bad for Jazz“) arguing that “vibing”–the longstanding practice favored by jazz musicians of giving another musician the stinkeye or worse if he or she isn’t making it in one way or another–is never good.

I disagree.

First: I do agree that generally, yes, it’s not good to be an nasty person, and there is definitely a kind of defensive vibing that is unrelated to anyone’s performance and springs from a musician’s own insecurities. This kind of vibing is bad. Being respectful and having a sense of humility about your place in the musical continuum is always a good goal regardless of the situation.

Eye-2But the fact is that some judiciously applied instructional vibing can fulfill the very important purpose of teaching people that this music is challenging and demanding and deserves a level of competence. To elaborate:

Often young players, hobbyists, or even professional musicians from other genres will come into a jazz sit-in or gig situation thinking they are fairly hot stuff due to previous adoring crowds in schools or karaoke bars or their success in non-jazz settings. It is in the best interest of both these musicians and the music in general to disabuse them of this notion (if in fact they are making rookie mistakes) as soon as possible. Why? So they can either a) realize they really need to improve, and do the work necessary to get there, or b) realize they don’t have the  interest or time to improve and would be better off spending their energy elsewhere.

Because you know what’s more bad for jazz than vibing? Bad jazz. I’ve said this before, but the music is ill-served by putting out a poor example to represent the product–when people hear a bad rock band they think, “this band is lousy,” whereas when they hear a bad jazz band they think, “I don’t like jazz.”

So by reinforcing the seriousness required of this music to these players, the overall quality of the product improves and fewer fans are turned off by lousy performances. It can be unpleasant, I get it! I was definitely one of those youngsters with a too-high opinion of myself and have been on the receiving end of vibing many times, much of it well-deserved. But it also served two purposes that made me a better musician: it inspired me to get my ass in gear and get to work; and it helped me get used to the idea that this is just a thing that happens in life and not to lose sleep over it. (This is especially true of the defensive vibing I mentioned earlier–you’re going to run into that. Better to learn to get over it and on with your own work.) It’s also been my experience that a musician coming from the humble/respectful place I mentioned before who screws up will get a kinder variety of vibe than one coming from a place of arrogance.

Now, to preemptively address some objections: “What about when they smashed Ornette Coleman’s horn? Was that good for the music?” Of course not, violence is bad and no, they shouldn’t have smashed his horn. But imagine how Ornette must’ve sounded to those early bands he sat in with–what he was doing was in another world stylistically, so of course it wouldn’t have fit, so it makes sense in the context of the music of that time that he would be treated like someone who couldn’t play. So how did he respond? He found a group of players who could appreciate his vision and started a revolution.

And obviously vibing is not appropriate in all circumstances. In an educational setting, for example, the teacher could accomplish the same goal by just telling the student what he/she needs to work on. But in an age when jazz clubs fill up half their calendar with middle and high school bands, it is worth emphasizing that we as representatives of the hundred-plus year tradition of this music have (in my opinion anyway) a duty to put forth serious, well-executed music (in whatever style we happen to be playing at the moment). Half-assing it should be inexusable for the pro as well as the student.

One more thought: to the idea of “we’re all in this together,” I would say, yes we are, but that doesn’t mean we get to phone it in. It’s nice to say “Anyone can play jazz” but it needs the caveat “if you work your ass off at it.”

In other words: it’s nothing personal, man! You just need to practice! And then come back and try it again.

Don’t miss Vibing, Part II: Vibable Offenses!

Hey, This Is Nice!

DB1408-62_risingstar_tptI am under no illusions that the Down Beat Critics Poll is an absolutely objective affair where artistic merit is the only factor (how would you even do that?)—so I absolutely am not getting the idea that I am in the “top” (whatever that means) 20 non-famous (“jazz famous,” that is) trumpeters out there (since I can think of several even within a few square miles of here who regularly kick my butt all over the bandstand), but still—this is nice!

What I take it to mean is that at least a few people (somewhere between 5 and 27) who know this music very well remembered who I am, and that they enjoyed my playing, when filling out their polls—which in this day of hundreds of jazz records released every month is not something I take for granted.

However, I have to say that I’m pretty sure two very big factors contributing to my cracking this list for the first time were:

  • I released two albums in two years; and
  • I hired a very good publicist to promote them.

I know there are many outstanding trumpeters out there who either didn’t release as frequently, or weren’t able to hire someone to bug reviewers to seek them out in the deluge, and they’re at a disadvantage. The whole publicity discussion is one for another time, but I’ve made my peace with the fact that even though a good publicist can encourage a reviewer to dig through his or her overflowing inbox and give a particular album a spin, it doesn’t guarantee the reviewer will like it.  (As a few reviews I could’ve done without can demonstrate.)

That said, I’m absolutely glad the critics remembered me (even though my last record came out way back in February—practically the stone age!), and I’m especially glad to see so many deserving friends, teachers & colleagues—Evan Francis! Dayna Stephens! Maria Schneider! Reggie Workman! Satoko Fujii! Donny McCaslin! Ben Goldberg! Howard Wiley! Kirk Knuffke! Jacob Garchik! Mike McGinnis!—showing up elsewhere in the poll.  I hope we all get more gigs!

(P.S. For an interesting and very detailed breakdown on how one voter approached the ballot, read this.)

January Update: Duocracy Coming, Gigs, New to Me

Happy New Year! (You can thank me later for not saying “jazzy.”) Lots going on, so here goes:

Here Comes Duocracy!
Duocracy, my soon-to-be-released duo album with my good friend pianist Ben Stolorow, is being pressed as we speak! (You can read a lot more about the album here: Ian Carey, Ben Stolorow, and Duocracy.) Ben and I are currently gearing up for our two CD release shows:

If you’re not going to be able to make either of those, we’re also playing a private preview show in Richmond on the afternoon of January 20 (MLK Day)–email me (ian [AT] if you’re interested in attending.

Winter Circus
Later this month, I’m happy to be involved in a rare off-season performance with the great Circus Bellafeaturing outstanding original music by accordionist/keyboardist/guitarist/composer/”Nice Guy” Rob Reich, with the Circus Bella All-Star Band (with Rob, Greg Stephens on trombone, Ralph Carney on a potpurri of woodwinds & sundries, Michael Pinkham on drums, & me on trumpet). We’ll be doing two shows on Saturday, January 26 at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco. Last chance to see us before summertime!

New to Me: Arranger Edition
You may remember I have a periodic series of posts about standout albums which, while not necessarily new to the world, are new to me. As I’m about to get to work on a new, extended composition for my Quintet+1 (funded by a generous grant from the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music’s Musical Grant Program—you should apply too!), which will be premiered this fall, I’ve been spending a lot of time seeking out new-to-me recordings by great arrangers and composers in order to help get my creative wheels turning. Here are a few:

Continue reading January Update: Duocracy Coming, Gigs, New to Me

Blues, Authenticity, and the Hopefully Not-So-Abstract Truth, Part 1

jazzinbluesRecently someone asked a question in Jack Walrath’s excellent Facebook group along the lines of “What tune makes you sweat bullets every time someone calls it on a gig or at a session?” Many responders picked tunes like “Giant Steps,” “Countdown,” “Cherokee,” etc., in other words thorny tunes with lots of intricate changes. I didn’t have to think about my answer at all–firstly because tunes like those have gotten easier since I’ve put the work in (although the challenge then becomes how to play the tune instead of letting the tune play you–more about this here); but mainly because for at least ten years my unquestioned nemesis in improvised music has been The Slow Blues.

Yes, that’s right, a regular old slow blues–the very first tune I ever improvised on, as a matter of fact. Why is it still hounding me? First, let’s establish some context by going back in time for a little background vignette:

SCENE: Stereotypical “Jazz Education” rehearsal room, mid 1990s. Whiteboard with diminished scale pattern on it, acoustical foam on walls, etc. 3-4 young white American and European college JAZZ STUDENTS are “jamming” on a Bb blues because the teacher is late again. Their solos are a mix of unswinging bebop lines, self-conscious “out” pentatonic or chromatic patterns, and corny stereotypical blues licks. One AFRICAN-AMERICAN TENOR PLAYER sits in the corner, looking vaguely stoned (which he probably was), not playing. TEACHER, a grizzled older jazz musician, arrives, looking like he just woke up under a rock, listens for a minute or so, and stops the tune.

TEACHER: What are you guys playing?

STUDENT: Just a blues.



AfAm TENOR PLAYER: They ain’t playin’ The Blues.

TEACHER (eyes closed meaningfully): This guy gets it.

Rest of STUDENTS go into a visible slump.

Yes, this was an actual scene from my past. (And no, I was not the hip African-American tenor player, if you hadn’t already guessed.) This guy has been successfully living in my head since that day, lying low and waiting until I start soloing on a slow blues to jump back into my consciousness at the most inopportune time: “You ain’t playin’ The Blues.”

I should mention that this guy was no great shakes as an improviser, either–he was all style and not much substance, at least as best I can remember 15 years later–but he turned into a symbol of my own inner critic. So let’s unpack what exactly is going on that turned these 12 simple bars into a source of overthinking for me.

Continue reading Blues, Authenticity, and the Hopefully Not-So-Abstract Truth, Part 1

Links: Another Thing I Do Instead of Practicing

Some of you may know that in addition to playing the trumpet, writing music, doing unnecessarily complicated illustrations for my CD, battling raccoons in my garden, and catching up on Japanese soap operas, I also sometimes waste time writing short internet humor pieces which may or may not provide minor amusement (and definitely do not provide even minor financial rewards).

Today I’ve got a new one up at McSweeney’s (everyone’s favorite way to spend 11 minutes procrastinating on the internet) called “I WILL Kick You Out of Bed for Eating Crackers“:

Listen, Kate Upton, we’ve been together for a while now, and while you are undeniably extremely attractive, and I would love to spend countless nights gazing longingly at your barely clothed figure here in our softly lit boudoir, the fact is I am going to have to go against my every instinct and kick you out of this warm, inviting bed.

Yes, because of the crackers.

You can read the rest here.

And in case you’re looking for more ways to make it to the weekend while doing as little work as possible, here are some other bits of mine they’ve previously kindly published:

New to Me: Fly, Contemporary Quartet, Ryan Kisor, Ravel Duo Sonata

It’s been a while since the last installment, so looks like it’s ime for another edition of the series where I recommend albums which have recently jumped up on my radar–some of which may be new, some of which may be not-so-new, some of which I may be the last person on Earth to hear about (are you guys hip to this “Maybe Call Me” thing?). So here are four great records which are New to Me!

Fly — Year of the Snake (2012): This actually is a new one! I was lucky enough to see these guys (Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier, and Jeff Ballard, that is) a few years ago when they released their previous album, the great Sky & Country, and they’re just getting better. The tunes especially are going new places–everybody’s got multiple composing credits and a wide variety of tune types are represented, from the Mingus-y straightahead “Salt & Pepper” to the sound-painting of some of the miniatures that make up the five-part “Western Lands” set. I had a regular trumpet/bass/drums trio for a while in my 20s, and really enjoyed writing music for that format, since–assuming you don’t want to just play tunes (which can be fine, too)–it forces you to do more with less, and makes a case for the whole “restriction as inspiration” idea. (See the Ravel below.) Counterpoint becomes especially important, and Fly makes great use of it on this record–see Grenadier’s “Kingston.” These guys make me want to start writing for that kind of small chord-instrument-free band again.

Continue reading New to Me: Fly, Contemporary Quartet, Ryan Kisor, Ravel Duo Sonata

What They Taught Me: Bill Kirchner

Reading Ethan Iverson’s long, detailed interview (does he do any other kind?) with saxophonist-composer-arranger-author Bill Kirchner got me thinking about the valuable things I got out of the arranging class I took with Kirchner, which in turn got me thinking about all the myriad lessons I’ve learned from many teachers/players/friends over the years, and BOOM! A new blog feature idea was born.

So I hereby inaugurate a new semi-regular gig in which I’ll talk about some lessons I’ve learned from a variety of people–some of whom I studied with directly, some I shared the bandstand with, some I hassled for a few minutes in a club, and probably even some who died before I was born. Partly I want to do this to pay tribute to these people and give credit where it’s due, but also I think it’ll be a good way of thinking about my own development, how I got here (wherever “here” is), and maybe reminding myself of advice I may have forgotten, and which might be worth a second look.

So I’ll go with Bill first since he indirectly gave me the idea.

Lesson #1: There Is Some Very Happening Music Out There You Don’t Know About
It is shocking to me to realize, but there was a time I didn’t know who Jimmy Giuffre was. He was just one of the musicians and writers whose records later became touchstones in my development which I was introduced to in Bill’s class. I heard Denny Zeitlin, Johnny Mandel (Bill played us a version of “The Song is You” which felt like the musical equivalent of falling in love with a beautiful woman who then punches you in the brain), Bill Holman, Bill Russo, Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto, and many others for the first time, and I remember he really got us beyond “Wow, man” and into thinking about how they did what they did. Continue reading What They Taught Me: Bill Kirchner

16 Easy Ways for Jazz to Build Its Audience and Remain Relevant

Stuff like this can really help.

Once again, the Jazz/BAM internet is abuzz–abuzz, I tell you!–with opinions on how the music can grow its audience and remain a culturally relevant art form in the 21st Century. Well, I’m happy to say they’re all wrong! Musicians and fans, just follow these few simple steps, and before you know it, Jazz will be partying like it’s 1959!

  • Provide iPods at every gig so audience members can listen to their own choice of music during the show
  • Bring contemporary audiences in by covering tunes by hot new pop bands like like N’SYNC, The BeeGees, and Scott Joplin
  • Have the band begin the set naked, and offer to put on one piece of clothing each time someone claps
  • Play more standards
  • Take advantage of social media platforms by limiting your solos to 140 notes or less
  • Build a “Jazzyland” theme park in Orlando, featuring thrilling attractions like Sun Ra’s ArKoaster, the GraviTrane, the Tilt-A-Wayne, Jazz Argument! (with Animatronic WyntonBot), Keith Jarrett’s FLIP-OUT! and the Bitches Brew Album Cover House of Horrors, plus exclusive shopping at The Ahmad JaMall and a hot dog stand run by Anthony Braxton
  • Reinvigorate jazz by incorporating elements of rock, hiphop, Salsa, polka, Bluegrass, Tango, Death Metal, Tibetan throat-singing, New Wave, Death Bluegrass, Drum and Bass, Drum and Bass and Mariachi, Thrash Electro-Industrial Housegrass, anything with tubas, the “Dukes of Hazzard” Theme, jazz, and Paul Anka
  • Get every jazz group in the world to play nothing but “Misty” for the next year, over and over, just to cure people of wanting to hear that $@#*%! song (Next year: “When the Saints”)
  • Accrue thousands of dollars in debt getting a degree in jazz from an accredited educational institution–once people learn how qualified you are, they’ll have no choice but to buy your CDs!
  • Book non-jazz acts to headline every major jazz festival in the U.S. for several years, until audiences forget what jazz is–just kidding, that would never happen!
  • Play fewer standards
  • Make the music more palatable to a wide audience by avoiding unpopular elements like improvisation, swing, acoustic instruments, “blue notes,” syncopation, harmony, melody, and rhythm
  • Save yourself the time and effort of practicing by just running “Kind of Blue” through the house speakers while your band pretends to play
  • Start an island colony to raise a new jazz audience from childhood in isolation, exposing them solely to the highest quality of musical influences; watch them grow into passionate and knowledgeable listeners, only to see it all go to hell when a crate of Justin Bieber CDs washes up on shore
  • Stop playing all that noodly stuff–people hate that.

New to Me: Geri Allen, Hancock/Shorter, Nonequal Bach

Last year I inaugurated a feature where I talk about music which, while not necessarily hot off the presses, is still New to Me–since it’s been a while since the last installment, here are a few albums which have recently been turning my crank:

Geri Allen — The Nurturer (1990) & Maroons (1992): I once got to go hear Geri Allen at the Village Vanguard after a friend who worked at an artist’s credit union discovered money for her which she’d forgotten about, and going to her show seemed like the best way to get in touch. She was off my radar for a while before a friend loaned me an album last year, which led to me digging up more. These two are  both fine early 90s efforts, with really interesting tunes and her own deeply personal blowing–and of special interest to trumpeters, great contributions from sidefolks like Wallace Roney and underappreciated legend Marcus Belgrave. (“Number Four,” an Allen/Belgrave duet on Maroons, is worth the price of admission itself.)

Derek Adlam — Masterpieces for Clavichord by Bach (2005); Christophe Rousset — Bach: Italian Concerto; Partita in B minor etc. (1992): Since stumbling on to Johnny Reinhard’s “Microtonal Bach” show during WKCR’s annual Bach Festival while I was in college, I’ve been hooked on recordings of my favorite composer made on instruments in historical, non-equal-tempered tunings–even though I love Bach on piano, once you’ve heard how colorful and interesting baroque modulations can be in nonequal tuning, hearing the same pieces on an equal-tempered instrument can be like going from technicolor to black & white. Rousset’s rousing album features a strident harpsichord in the Werckmeister III tuning, and outstanding versions of several Bach staples, including one of my all-time favorites, the Chromatic Fantasia & Fugue in D minor (check it out here). Adlam’s disc features the much more subtle clavichord (made for quiet performances in small rooms) in a tuning called “Young 2,” and a program of lesser-known (to me) pieces. (Couldn’t find a video but here’s Adlam playing some William Byrd in nonequal tuning.) If you want to get a great intro to historical tuning and the kind of color effects I’m talking about, check out this page featuring the same baroque piece played in Meantone, Werckmeister and equal (modern) tunings.

Herbie Hancock/Wayne Shorter — 1+1 (1997): It’s embarrassing, but I never got around to checking out this album until recently, when a friend put on the sublime “Meridianne/A Wood Sylph” at a listening party. (We had a great time imagining the Verve execs’ reaction in the studio–“Uh, are you sure you guys don’t feel like throwing in a version of ‘All Blues’ or something?”) With these giants, you know it would’ve been incredible even if they’d phoned it in, which they unquestionably did not. An outstanding reminder of the towering peaks still remaining to be ascended in this music. On the off chance that I’m not the last person in the world to recommend this record, I strongly suggest you pick it up.