Monday, June 03, 2013

Mulgrew Miller

One of my favorite musicians in the world passed on May 29th. He inspired me in so many ways. 

His phrasing was perfect, he had amazing melodic ideas, amazing harmonic ideas, and a great touch on the piano. He always swang so hard and was always extremely soulful. But most importantly, he was one of the most humble musicians I ever met. You felt it in his music and you felt it when you spoke with him.

I was introduced to Mulgrew Miller by the very amazing "Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw Sessions" that were issued on Blue Note Records in the mid 90s. This release features two CD's "The Eternal Triangle and "Double Take", which were recorded in the 80's and also feature Kenny Garrett Alto Saxophone, Ray Drummond on Bass, and Carl Allen on Drums. 

When I moved to NY, I became a huge fan of Mulgrew. Every chance I got to see Mr. Miller play, I was there. One of my favorite performances was of his trio with bassist Derrick Hodge on Bass, and Karriem Riggins on Drums at the Up and Over Club, a great place I used to frequent in Brooklyn that has been closed for some years now.

I always wondered why Mulgrew Miller was so overlooked… Why he wasn’t touring the world more with his own bands, playing at all of the major jazz festivals, playing at Carnegie Hall, or praised more for being the amazing musician he was… But when I talked to him I knew that that was the last thing on his mind. He was all about the music, and love… He was always very respectful and a true gentleman. And that meant and still means so much to me. I cannot explain how much this man inspires me and continues to give me such a great sense of pride… but today I wish I actually said this to him before he left us. Thank you Mulgrew Miller! You will truly be missed and your music will live on in our hearts!

Mr. Miller has many great recordings. I recommend all of his recent trio recordings - Live at the Kennedy Center (Volume 1 and 2) & Live at Yoshi's (Volume 1 and 2) as well as his recordings Hand in Hand, The Sequel, With Our Own Eyes, Time and Again, and The Countdown.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Life and Music as one.

I can say as a musician, that sometimes you get so caught up in music and your career that you don't realize how time is slipping by. You don't realize the things that are happening around you and you don't think of the possibilities.. The possibilities of losing a loved one or something happening around you or to you because you're not paying close enough attention.
In the past year, all of that came to light in my life. I lost a lot of people that were close to me in different ways. My cousin was killed in a motorcycle accident two days after I was with him at a surprise birthday party for my Mother, my Father (who I hadn't talked to in years) passed away suddenly, and relationships with others ended drastically, catching me on my blindside and totally knocking me off kilter. All causing an extremely traumatic, painful year that I still feel as though I'm recovering from.
 From these experiences,  I've learned to to be thankful for life. Thankful to have another chance everyday I wake up. Thankful for the people that are in my life that are truly genuine, sincere, and care. Those that aren't selfish and that I don't have to question in ANY way. My Mother being beyond a PERFECT example of that. I've also learned to pay more attention to my surroundings and to follow what my heart and gut tell me, because they almost NEVER lie. In the past year I've learned so much about the words respect, trust, and integrity.... Three words that everyone should look up from time to time.

  I've also learned what music means in my LIFE. How it affects it and how I should pay more attention to my life for the direction of my music. Charlie Parker said "If you don't live it, it wont come out of your horn". Although, I don't want to go through the things that have happened to me in the past year again, my eyes are wide open now and I certainly get it. Practicing everyday is one thing. Actually having a story to tell is another.

  So to those of you that are artists and those of you that are not... I'd like to say.. be true. Honesty and sincerity always come through in music and are eventually revealed in life. The reason our heros like Lester Young, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, and Wayne Shorter were able to penetrate our souls was because they were sincere and honest in who they were. They didn't hide it in their personalities or their music. It was all one.  Live life to the fullest and cherish the people that are TRUE to you, support you, and LOVE YOU. The ones that are always around, always there for you and you don't have to seek. They don't HAVE to be there and may not be there forever.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Those that know me know that I'm a fan of Tenor Saxophonist Mark Turner. I first heard him when I was in high school on a CD by Jimmy Smith called "Daaaam!", but it wasn't until I heard Mark's CD - "In This World" that I really started to check him out and became a huge fan. Besides his own recordings (one recording for Criss Criss and four recordings on Warner Bros that I highly recommend), Mark Turner has made amazing contributions to recordings by Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel as well as a group that he co- leads with Bassist Larry Grenadier and Drummer Jeff Ballard called Fly. I'm also fortunate to have had Mark as a guest on my first CD "Perspective".

For a while I've been inspired by Marks sense of harmony, range, and control of the horn. But what stands out just as much as all of those qualities is his humility and sense of self control. Upon meeting him, you will find him to be a very cool, quiet person, almost in a meditative state. If you get a chance to sit down and talk to him, you'll find he has lots of information and is just seriously cool. I have a lot of respect for this guy. Nuff said... Here's a recent Q & A between the maestro and I.

Jaleel: I know you were born in California. Can you talk about what it was like growing up in California, how you came to play the saxophone, and who some of your early influences were? Also, how old you were when you started to get serious and realized this is something you wanted to do as a career? Was Berklee your first choice?

Mark: Actually I was born in Ohio, Wright Patterson Air Force Base. My father was a Captain in the air force...his job was navigator in B52 bombers. We later moved with my stepfather(bio father died in plane crash) to L.A. (where I grew up) when I was four. I started playing the clarinet in school band in 4th grade(age 9). There was also a citywide marching band in which I was also involved. I played clarinet until 9th grade when Jazz (big) band was an option so I switched to alto and later tenor (11th/12th grade).

Some early influences were my saxophone teacher Bill McNairn who was strongly inlfuenced by Lester Young, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn. Also My parents had some Sonny Stitt/Gene Ammons records, My Favorite Things, Stardust(John Coltrane) Sonny Rollins(The Bridge), Sonny Side Up(Dizzy Gillespie), some Brecker Bros. Also my parents listened to music a quite a bit - partiularly lots of R&B(Stevie Wonder,Al Green, The Spinners, Earth Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding etc). Regarding getting serious, not sure how to answer that as I'm still working on that part.

That said, serious meaning consistant daily practice/ involvment in music...started to take shape first or second year of college then by the third I was "serious" about music. Berklee was my first and only choice as I didn't really know about any other music schools on the east coast. Incidentally, by the way I got to Berklee that was my third year of college. Notion of Music as a career? That was gradual and was never really sure. Just took it a day, month, year at a time while it became a more consistent part of my life.

Jaleel: How was your experience at Berklee College of Music? Who did you study with and what were some of the things you focused on when you were shedding at this time? Also, who else was studying at Berklee at this time?

Mark: My time at Berklee was generally good. When I came I didn't know anything so there was nothing to lose(musically) and everything to gain. I learned from the other students as much as from the teachers. At that time there was Josh Redman(across the Charles river), Seamus Blake, Chris Cheek, Chris Speed(NEC), Antonio Hart(Tony back then), Donny McCaslin, Jordi Rossy, Danilo Perez, Roy Hargrove, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Scott Amendola, Scott Kinsey, Laila Hathaway, Delfeayo Marsalis, Jim Blake, Skooli Svereson, Dan Rieser, Jeff Parker, as well others. Teachers were George Garzone, Joe Viola, Billy Pierce. At that time I was mainly trying to learn the vocabulary(transcribing) and play the saxophone reasonably well(technique/time). Basically learning how to play. I wasn't as interested in originality as in fundamentals. How could I approach making this music mine if I don't really know what it is and or cannot speak its language? I'm still learning it as the process is gradual but at that time it was more fundamental than the present for the most part.

Jaleel: One of the first things I noticed when I first heard you was your control over the horn, your range, and your sense of harmony. What are some things that you practiced regularly? Are these things you are pretty much consistent with today?

Mark: Much of that (harmonic sensibility, horn range) were things that came after Berklee. Although foundation started there. After transcribing a lot I had learned from that process things other than vocabulary such as voice leading/harmony, note groupings, ornamentation, pacing, phrasing, swing/time, sound. Transcribing helped me to learn how to assimilate/integrate information in my own way. So I tried to find ways to combine/continue these things without transcribing. For example play a two five with voice leading( two to six voices all smooth voice leading), see all common tones including all alterations/change of chord color, change cadence with final chord the same, keep cadence change final chord, use note grouping of some type, triads, intervals, use ornamentation etc. Range came out of necessity. There were things I wanted to play that required it. So these are all things that I still work on. Maybe content changes but the format is similar.

Jaleel: Another thing I've noticed about you is that you are a very centered, focused, and humble. On the gigs I've done with you, it sometimes seems like you are meditating before you play. Sometimes doing yoga too. How has this helped you today and do you think it has had an influence on your playing?

Mark: I just try to keep things in perspective and maintain mindfulness on the task at hand. Perspective(what is really important in the relative and absolute, what is one's role/intention in a given situation) helps keep the ego( belief/clinging to an inherently existent I/self. Which includes all things associated with self such as... my body, my mind, my hopes, my fears, my desires, my aversions, my friends, my enemies, my material possessions, me, me, me and on and on etc) in check. Besides, ego is the killer of imagination...drags you down. Have no time for it. Mindfulness/Meditation help to keep the mind clear, focused, pliable. Yoga and running help to keep body/mind reasonably healthy. I'm a slow learner so I need time. Don't want this body to fail too soon.

Jaleel: As both a great saxophonist and composer, who would you say are your biggest influences in music and why?

Mark: Although this not a musical influence I would say at this point my grandfather Lewis Jackson is my greatest influence. Born to a working class family, died an aeronautical engineer, educator(college level), multimillionaire. If you met him you would never know it. He didn't talk about himself, what he lacked, or what others had. He just did. Keep in mind that he did this during the height of mind twentieth century segregation, before civil rights laws passed in the sixties. He and my grandmother lived in the same modest home until his death and left almost all of their money to education, the arts, and other charities. He was curious, imaginative, practical, intelligent, action oriented, and generous up to the end of his life. He died as he lived.

John Coltrane. More or less the same reasons as my grandfather but of course applied to music, craft, and culture. I would like to add adventure combined with taste and elegance. power/strength with tenderness and lyricism, blues/folklore with complex harmony/melody. Maintains center no matter what. Sound

Joe Henderson. Master of fast tempos, time, and pacing. Always in the rhythm section, over it on command. In other words he wields/galvanizes the rhythm section...does not simply play his language over it. One of the fathers of quickly moving form(in composition) which we now take for granted. Master of playing different "styles" /bands and giving each what it needs while maintaining his musical integrity/language. Always makes everyone else sound good. Blues/folklore. Maintains slick, cool, swagger no matter what. Sound

Warne Marsh. Master of invention. Rarely repeats himself. Willing to fall/stumble(musically) to find a new melody. Improvises at all costs. Relies primarily on content, placement, anticipation rather than volume/ dynamic range and inflection. Brings an inward contained/concentrated energy rather then an outward spread. Maintains cool no matter what. Sound.

Wayne Shorter. Prolific, varied, composer. Conjurer. Wide imagination. Covers full range of emotion. Sound.

Thelonius Monk. In terms of composition and playing. Great attention to detail. Says a great deal with only what is necessary. Covers full range of emotion. Fully aware. Conjurer. Blues/folklore. Chords. Sound. Use of space.

Lester Young. Melody. Use of space, pacing. Says a lot with little in a short time. Intelligent, witty improviser. Blues/folklore.Sound.

Miles Davis. The power of one note.

Duke Ellington. Prolific composer. Able take a format and write on it inexhaustibly. Chords.

Morton Feldman, Arnold Shoenberg, Bach, Beethoven. Harmony, Form, Chords, Space

Issac Asimov, Ursula K. LeGuin. Imagination. Ability to created a world/paradigm that lives on it's own terms

John Lennon/Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder. Great song writers

All musical colleagues.

I could go on and on but need to stop somewhere.

Jaleel: Lately, I'm realizing a lot of the masters have moved out of NYC. And I've been reading some great books that talk about how EVERYONE used to live in NY and how there was a little more networking going on amongst the older and younger musicians back in the day. I'm also seeing a lot of great musicians move out of the city and even the country to pursue their careers. But it's something I'm kind of afraid to do. Do you feel a connection to NYC musically? How important is it for you to be in New York?

Mark: I do feel a connection to NYC musically although I don't feel a necessity to stay here. I did live in New Haven for nine years. There is no other energy like it anywhere else in the jazzworld. It is and has been important to get a taste of it. I would not be what I am (musically) if I had not lived here at some the very least to experience the culture as I believe it is still here(NYC).

Jaleel: You were one of many great jazz artist that were signed to a major label and experienced the collapse of those labels. I still remember running into you at the Vanguard and you telling me that Warner Bros. Jazz was basically no more. How was it to experience something like that first hand and how do you feel about the direction the music scene is going as far as recording goes?

Mark: On many levels it was good experience. If put back in same time period I would do it again but with a different head. Namely I did not realize how much power I/we musicians have. The people I knew at Warner Bros. loved music and worked really hard to keep it going/living. Regarding collapse, everything arises, abides, and falls/ born, lives and dies. So what else is knew? Something is being born/created in terms of recording. More creative freedom. Home made recording. Mobilization from musicians/ community.

Jaleel: What do you work on now when you practice? Do you still transcribe?

Mark: I practice sound mostly. Time in various ways. Vocabulary, technique, Voice leading, Ear training, Mind exercise. I don't transcribe much...little bits here and there from any type of music


Mark Turner plays:

49,000 Selmer Balanced Action Tenor Saxophone
w/ and early Babbit Otto Link #7 mouthpiece & 4 1/2 - 5 Robertos Woodwinds reeds


Yamaha 62 Soprano (which I would like to change to a Conn)
w/ a Bill Street mouthpiece (super great) w/ 4 1/2 - 5 Robertos Woodwind Reeds


Friday, May 27, 2011

Better Late Than Never!

It's been a while since I've posted anything, but it's been a crazy/busy year so far. Between the beginning of the year and now, I have recorded a new CD with the Roy Haynes Quartet that will include guests Chick Corea, Roy Hargrove, Marcus Strickland, Craig Haynes, and Robert Rodriguez. I also did performances with Christian Mcbride and Inside Straight in Europe and Bermuda, performed in Boston, Wayne NJ, and New York at the Jazz Standard with the Roy Haynes Quartet, Israel with the George Colligan Trio, and recorded a new CD with saxophonist Dayna Stephens that will include Ambrose Akinmusiree, Taylor Eigsti, Joe Sanders, Justin Brown, and guest vocalist Gretchen Parlato.

I'm looking forward to this summer. I'll be making my debut at Smalls Jazz Club in NYC with my own band, which will feature Lawrence Fields on Piano, Boris Kozlov on Bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums. I will also be performing with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band, the Donald Edwards Quartet, Ben Williams Quartet, Roy Haynes, and Christian McBride and Inside Straight this summer. All of the information about those gigs can be found on my website -

Something I'm really excited about is an interview series I will start on this blog. They'll basically be question and answer interviews with some great musicians on the scene today. So far I've just completed an interview with saxophonist Mark Turner and I have E.J. and Marcus Strickland lined up to do one (even though Ms. Beener beat me to an interview with Marcus! LOL! Check out that interview here! Look for the Mark Turner interview in the near future and the interview with Marcus and E.J. soon! Hope you are all well and I'm still trying to stay up on my posts... Hopefully I'll be more consistent in the future!!!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Health, Love, and LEEL in 2011

I just met with a natural medicine doctor tonight that gave me a new diet and health tips. One things he said to me really hit home. He told me to surround myself with people that LOVE me, are honest and want to be in HARMONY with me. And to find a companion that ADORES me and is patient, understanding, and all about resolving any issues. And to secure that adoration.

All I can say is that he hit the nail on the head... Just from him saying that, realized how I've struggled over the past years to keep some of my relationships stable or even existing. When on the other side of that my friend may not have been trying that hard or may not have cared.. And I realized how that struggle physically may have caused stress to my body and mind... Although I feel as though I let lots of that go over time and have found great people to surround myself with, I need to be more conscious of it and to completely be at peace. I feel as though I may have gotten away from the more peaceful, positive reserved Leel I used to be and I'm hoping to get back to that.

Another thing I need to be more conscious of (and the reason I went to see him) is what I put in my body. Although I THOUGHT I ate right, I still have had health problems to address. Sure, I shop at Whole Foods a lot, which is great, but it mean I shouldn't read labels to see what's in my food? Ok.. Enough of this super personal blog! Happy New Year!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

End of the Year 2010!

Unfortunately, I've been away from this blog for a little while and it's been really hard for me to keep up... But I'd like to say some things for the end of the year....

It's been a great year for me and I'm thankful for the opportunities I had to go on the road and record with some great musicians this year.. This year I went to LA to perform with the Dave Holland Big Band, to perform in Cali, Maryland, and N.C with Christian Mcbride, to Moscow (for the first time) with the Vitaly Golavnev group, as well as a 5 week tour with Roy Haynes that took me to Finland, Germany, Italy, France, Sweden, Norway, Copenhagen, Spain and the UK.. I also recorded with Johnathan Blake and Ben Williams for recordings that should be released this next year!

I'm also thankful for the new friends I've made on the road as well as on the scene... I'm also thankful for those that we've lost this year. Unfortunately some amazing people that I met this year have left us. Mr. Sid Simmons, Mr. James Moody, and Ms. Trudy Pitts! They will truly be missed.

For those of you that don't know who Sid Simmons was, he was a great Philadelphian pianist that's best known for his work with Grover Washington, John Blake, and Gerald Veasley. He was also known for playing in the house band at Ortliebs jazz Club, supporting all of the great jazz musicians that have come through Philadelphia. I met Sid Simmons when I was only 11 years old. All I can say is he was one of the most supportive musicians I have ever met. He was always a very peaceful guy. He loved music and he loved people. Period. He was one of the most influential musicians I met coming up in Philly. Not only because he was an amazing pianist, but he was also an amazing human being. He was great to be around and was always positive. I feel as though part of who I am today is because of who he was.

James Moody was an amazing jazz saxophonist that is best known for his "Moody's Mood for Love" (There I go, THere I go,) and for his work with the great Dizzy Gillespie. I first met Moody when I was selected to participate in the Ravinia Jazz Summer Workshop in Illinois while I was studying at Berklee. He was also very positive and really loved music. I'll never forget the first day of the saxophone workshop in Ravinia. The first thing he did when he walked in the room was to ask all the students to take out a piece of manuscript and a paper and write some lines down for him to work on! LOL! He was always studying, and was willing to learn from anyone. That was one of the best lessons I've ever learned.

The Amazing Trudy Pitts was a great Jazz Organist from Philadelphia that was best known for her work with jazz guitarist Pat Martino. She's also recorded 4 records for Prestige records -

1967: Introducing the Fabulous Trudy Pitts (Prestige) with Pat Martino
1967: These Blues are Mine (Prestige)
1968: Bucket Full of Soul (Prestige)
1968: Excitement (Prestige)

Trudy was also very supportive and always gave very great advice. I think I rarely ever saw her without her husband. William Carney. I know he misses her truly.

I think I've learned a lot about love and humility from these people. The one thing I sometimes notice about musicians is humility is sometimes hard for some of us to address or attain. Sometimes the ego gets in the way.. or jealousy. And I've noticed how it can make it hard for some to actually love or enjoy the people. Some become less social or their ego gets so huge that they began to think they're above others.... And sometimes even their music or creative development suffers. And with this the Love for the music dies... I've also learned that Love, when it's real, is unconditional. It's real. We find it in the parent/s that raised us, and was there now just as they were when we were children. They call everyday to make sure we're ok and worry when they don't hear from you. We also find it in that friend that is always there for you and will have your back no matter what... without question. We also find it in the people that we may not see that often, but when we do, there's that sense of warmth and positivity that always lifts our spirits. And the feeling that time hasn't passed at all since you last saw that person. From these musicians, I've learned that it's so much more about what comes out of your heart, your real heart... Your honesty and sincerity as an individual, than what comes out of your instrument. It all comes down to Love in the end. The people can usually tell....

Trudy Pitts, James Moody, and Sid Simmons all had so much love that there was no time for ego or jealousy. They were all about helping people, teaching, supporting and learning from people. To quote Mr. Moody - ‎"Nobody else in this world is no better than me, and I'm no better than anyone else". I am just so thankful to have learned from these people. And I wish so many more had that opportunity to do so. They will all stay in my heart for ever.

Lastly, I wasn't able to record my 3rd CD this year. I'm kinda back at square one with it and now may be on to another project all together. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, I'd like to wish you all Happy Holidays!! See you next year!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dave Holland in LA & Roy Haynes in Japan

So I've been late with updates... It's been hard for me to keep up, but I'm giving it a try... So what's new?? In the end of July I did another gig with Dave Holland at the Hollywood bowl. It was my first time playing at the Bowl and the night was a big band show that also featured the Dave Douglas and Count Basie Big bands. Since I'd never been at the Hollywood bowl before, I had no idea it was such a huge venue. We got out on the stage to find the audience was packed, which was a shock for me. So there ARE people that like jazz??? LOL! Anyway, as always, I had a great time performing with Mr. Holland and the big band. The music is always killing and there's just a great vibe in that band. One of the highlights for me was the fact that the Hollywood bowl has a revolving stage AND a timer.. So when the time is up on your performance, the stage starts to turn. Dave must've timed the show perfectly because we literally ended RIGHT when the clock ran out... It was hilarious!

So, what else.....? Well, last month I went to Japan (one of my favorite places to go in the world!!) with Roy Haynes and I have to say it was short, but as always I had a good time. Only thing is, it was in the 90's out there EVERYDAY, and the humidity was about 80% ( I never realized it's usually not higher than 40% in NY), so it was hard to hang out. The other thing that made it hard to hang out during the day was the fact that it was a Japanese holiday (Obon) and the club pushed the shows up to 4pm and 7pm. I did get to have some of my favorite sushi in Tsukiji, Curry around the corner from the hotel, and Okonamiyaki in Shinjuku! I also had a fun hang in Roppongi and Shibuya during the nights I could stay awake!

I must say, Roy was in rare form in Japan! I've seen him dance on the stage before, but this week was different. This time he danced in a tap dance fashion for a little while, scatted on a blues, and we even got into some funk. The audience loved it and we had a good time. It was also great to see so many of my good friends out there. I realize that I have so many friends in Japan from my Berklee days. Good times...

So what else... The Charlie Parker Festival.. I played with the Revive the Live group this year, performing a tribute to Bird. That show went over well and we all had a great time. The band included Igmar Thomas, Marcus Strickland, Corey King, and myself on the front line and Marc Cary, Ben Williams, and Justin Brown in the rhythm section. Raydar Ellis was the DJ and MC for the performance.

Also, I went to the Michael Jackson Party in Harlem this year.. It's an annual party hosted by Spike Lee that basically went from 12 - 5pm. Unfortunately, I got there at 3pm, but in enough time to hear some great music and hear Snoop Dawg do a special guest performance. It was a lot of fun. And I'm really digging the MJ Tshirt I purchased as well...

Well, I have more I'll try to catch you up on... I'll try to do that a little later.. - LEEEEEEEEL