Wednesday, April 28, 2010

First Installment...

Back when this whole internets thing got going (mid/late '90s) I took advantage using web sites and discussion groups as a means to speak for myself as a musician. The timing was fortuitous as it coincided with a period in which I experienced a verbal awakening of sorts. I was asked to write some articles here and there and in general I found the process of organizing my thoughts and expressing certain ideas for the first time to be very beneficial for my music making.

At some point however (maybe a couple/few years ago) I found myself with little else to say. And perhaps with the exponential increase in on-line activity (MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) I began to feel the need to take a break. And I'm still rather ambivalent about much of this. So much business is done at the computer as it is. But lately I've been feeling the desire to take charge again and have been wondering what the optimal platform might be to best keep things on my own terms.

Facebook has been somewhat interesting but ultimately I find myself wanting to sink my teeth into something a bit deeper. There are some impressive blogs out there, which at first I found almost intimidating in as much as I can't imagine reading as many books as are being discussed, or listening to as many recordings as are being dissected. But I found many of them to be compelling and so decided to start this blog without telling anyone about it for awhile, just to see what develops and to find out whether this might be a good outlet and connection to other folks who may be interested in my work.

One of the other reasons I stopped doing as much online writing was that I've been practicing more. A lot more. For a time, much of my creative energy was devoted to conceptual issues and integrating other types of experiences into my artistic life. That seemed to require only enough daily practice as to keep myself in shape. But over the past few years I've become almost obsessed with sound. So much so that in trying to further develop my sound I recently took the drastic (for me) step of changing my equipment. I've always been strong on the idea of sticking with a set-up (mouthpiece, reeds, horn) for many years at a time and discovering what it takes physically to change ones sound. Finally however, I felt the need to explore some other options. The first step involved getting a new mouthpiece. I chose a hand-made model by Fred Lebayle (who is working here in NYC). It's an large chamber piece and puts me one step closer to the kind of sound I've been looking for (warmer, fuller). From there it was only a few weeks before I realized I had to take the next step and check out some other saxophones. I've been playing a Mark VI Selmer since the early '70s. But I always had a sneaking suspicion that I might really prefer the previous model, the Balanced Action. Trouble is, these vintage Selmers are so vastly overpriced as to make them all but unattainable for most of us. But I did try a number of them and I did feel that they were much preferable to the Mark VI, more of a core and more of a singing quality to the sound. Along the way however I decided to check out some vintage Conn saxophones (from the teens, 20s and 30s). And man am I glad that I did. I like them even better than the Selmers. I had no idea that these horns were so unique. To make a long story short I picked out a 1927 Conn that makes everything I've been trying to do sonically that much easier. In the process I'm learning a whole lot more about this instrument the saxophone (that I've been playing since I was 10) than I ever thought there was to know.

And the effect of all of this musically has been rather profound. I feel as if I'm starting over from the beginning. That's on the one hand a bit frightening but on balance much more exciting and very conducive to the whole idea of improvising. And improvising is about all I've been interested in doing. Granted (no pun intended) I recently completed a writing commission from Chamber Music America which allowed me to pursue some compositional strategies I've been interested in (maybe I'll write more about that later). But I'm more and more compelled by the idea of free improvisation not being a style at all, but simply a means to incorporate any and all kinds of musical information into a spontaneous presentation. Not free "from" anything but free "to" do anything. Not a form of avoidance (of form, melody, lyricism or groove as is often the case) but an opportunity to unite everything.

So as I embark on this new chapter in music making I will use this blog as an opportunity to share parts of the process. And living here in NYC presents me daily with experiences from the mundane to the astonishing. Taken individually, many of these experiences may not seem all that important. But the fabric of life here is unique (even as the city continually changes) and taken together these experiences are often worth documenting.

So here goes...

6 comments:

  1. Hi Ellery,

    Nice to have you blogging!

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  2. Hi Moandji,
    Thanks for reading. I was in Gent a few weeks ago. Will be back to Belgium in October and again in December. Hope to see you...

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  3. I wish I'd been more attentive... Hopefully you'll be closer to Brussels on your next trips.

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  4. Yes, I will indeed...see you then...

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  5. 'But I'm more and more compelled by the idea of free improvisation not being a style at all, but simply a means to incorporate any and all kinds of musical information into a spontaneous presentation. Not free "from" anything but free "to" do anything.'

    Thanks Ellery, I think that's a close to perfect way of expressing what free improv is about. I found all the stuff here on your blog (I'm so glad I found it from a link on SOTW in a thread about you) extremely interesting but these two sentences really 'connect' for me. I've been digging your music for a lot of years but I really wanted to thank you for your Sonny Stitt transcription that was published back in the '90s in Downbeat. I went straight out and bought The Eternal Triangle and it openned many musically doors of listening for me. I was just starting to really appreciate all that great period of music. Trying to get it on the horn was a great spur at the playing level I was at and I learnt a lot from it - thanks again.

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  6. Anon,
    Thanks for your comments. I'm happy to know that these "musings" might connect once in awhile. But it's really the music that connects everything. And that's something that goes way back. Pretty amazing when you think about it…

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