Wishing everybody happiness, good health, and success in the new year!
Looking back at 2018, there have been quite a few highlights for me and the trio (Justin Grinnell and Julien Cantelm, and I wanted to share some of them here. I am very grateful for everyone who has supported us along the way. With that, here are my 2018 highlights and reflections:
-Releasing One Day It Will on Origin Records. This album was a major undertaking for me, both musically and logistically. It was an amazing few months seeing how it was received in the press and radio worlds as well as with the public. I was very fortunate to work with a great team of promoters including publicist Ann Braithwaite, Joshua Ellman and Mark Rini of Groov Marketing, and John Bishop from Origin Records. I was also extremely fortunate to have the support of some awesome friends and fans who banded together under the name “The Producers Club.”
-Going on multiple tours with Justin & Julien. We played in Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver (our international debut), Baltimore, Washington D.C., NYC, Buffalo, Middletown, CT, Boston, San Luis Obispo, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Altos Hills, Huntington, NY, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Chandler, Tucson, Fresno, Auberry, and I’m sure I’m leaving some out. Huge thanks to all the venues for having us! Thinking back to all these gigs, each one of these venues are truly special places run by people who have such great passion and drive for keeping jazz thriving in their communities. Also, a huge thanks to Marian Liebowitz Artist Management and my wife for making all these gigs happen!
-Collaborations! As you all know, I love playing in the trio format, but it’s also a pure joy bringing other artists into the mix. This year, we’ve had the opportunity to perform with some incredible artists including Chico Pinheiro, Eva Scow, Anton Schwartz, Téka Penteriche. I also had a number of opportunities to collaborate with some amazing string musicians for my Trio Plus Strings concerts. They included Kate Hatmaker, Erica Erenyi, Travis Maril, Isaac Allen, Bram Goldstein, Coco Shih, Ben Brown, Renee Renée Delgado, Marina Kifferstein, Leah Asher, Clara Kennedy, Alisa Rose, Keith Lawrence, Shain Carrasco, Luis Mascaro, Jennifer Wu, and Simon Huber. Such a pleasure and honor to work with you all and I look forward to more in the future!
– LP And The Vinyl. My trio has been playing with vocalist Leonard Patton over the years, and this year we officially formed LP And The Vinyl. We went on a few very fun tours and had a very successful showcase at the Western Arts Alliance conference in Las Vegas. We’ve been adding more songs to the repertoire including some originals, and we have some great tours lining up for 2019 and 2020, thanks to Marian Liebowitz.
-Duo with Tripp Sprague! I love playing in the duo setting, and Tripp is an amazing musician to play with in this format (and any other format). We had a super fun house concert here in November. You can catch us at the Handlery Hotel on January 25.
-Peter Sprague’s Christmas concert. It’s always a blast playing with Peter and playing his amazing music. As usual, his Christmas concert made it to my list of highlights.
-I was very humbled and thankful to win jazz artist of the year at the 2018 San Diego Music Awards. It was quite an honor for me, and it felt great to have my work recognized in that way.
Over the last few years, I’ve been hooked on a number of different podcasts. Here are a couple of my favorite shows/episodes from 2018.
My very favorite episode was on the Ezra Klein Show and it was entitled “Will Storr on why you are not yourself.” I actually listened to it twice in a row and bought Storr’s book, which I am immensely enjoying.
I recently listened to the latest season of Serial. This season was an in depth look at the justice system, through the scope of Cincinnati. As usual, it was extremely well done.
I’ve been really hooked on the You’ll Hear It podcast by Peter Martin and Adam Maness from Open Studio. They do an amazing job breaking down jazz concepts, sharing what they love about other artists, and much more. It’s a great mix of material that is helpful for beginning jazz musicians, and inspiring to musicians and jazz fans of all levels.
I went through a cult podcast phase for a few weeks earlier in the year. I listened to Heaven’s Gate, and Dear Franklin. Pretty crazy is all I can say!
Another podcast that I checked out a bit was Freakonomics Radio. They had a series all about sports which I found fascinating. I rarely watch or play sports, even though I do enjoy watching them (and sometimes playing them if I don’t have to get my heart rate up). I think there are a lot of similarities between striving for greatness in the arts and sports, and it was very interesting getting insights from the athletic world.
Other podcast go-to’s for me have been WTF, Fresh Air, the Axe Files, and San Diego’s very own San Diego Sessions.
I wish I could remember all the TV shows I’ve watched over the last year. Some favorites though include Narcos, Kidding, Maniac (almost done with the first season), Peaky Blinders, Glow, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Shameless, Orange Is The New Black, Black Mirror, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Billions.
This is footage from our pre-concert interview with jazz critic Dan Bilawsky at the 2018 Huntington Summer Arts Festival. We had a great conversation about the music on One Day It Will, the history of the trio, and about incorporating strings into the jazz context.
Last December, Mark Lovett, who organizes TEDxSanDiego, came to me with the idea of having a first set of classical piano, a second set of jazz piano, and then a third set with a piece combing classical and jazz, with two pianos. I immediately thought how fun it would be to do this with the trio plus strings.
In general, I compose whenever inspiration hits me, and I’m not used to having deadlines or specific parameters like composing a piece that combines classical and jazz and uses two pianos. I met with Ines in April, and we got talking about the project. We hit it off immediately, and I was feeling motivated to write something cool. I told her it would be ready by June. June and July passed quite quickly, and I didn’t even write one note yet. I was working on my new album and just didn’t have the mind to do any composing. I finally got started with it toward the end of August.
Once the piece was ready, Ines and I got together for our first run through. She sounded so great, and it was so cool to hear how she interpreted the music. Ines wanted me to write a solo for her. Inspired by the rehearsal, I wrote out a solo for her, and then a whole section where the band drops out and we trade solos. After we get finish the bridge, the band comes back in, and we play some quick lines in harmony. We got together for another rehearsal and did some polishing. The day before TEDXSanDiego, we had our first run-through with the full band. Everyone did their homework and the piece came together very quickly.
It was a pure joy to play the piece at TEDxSanDiego. I feel so fortunate to work wish such incredible musicians, and can’t wait for more opportunities like this one.
A few weeks ago, I was asked to write a column called “What’s On Your Playlist”for JAZZed Magazine. I spent the greater part of a Sunday listening to some of my favorite albums and writing a mini-review on each album. The article appeared in the March edition of JAZZed. Click the picture below to view them full size. I highly encourage you to check out all these great artists!
I had a wonderful time playing with my trio at the Village Art Series in Yuma, AZ this past February. The weather was perfect, and the crowd was so nice and receptive to us. Prior to our performance, Justin, Julien and I gave a master class at Arizona Western College on playing Brazilian rhythms in the jazz context. We’re looking forward to visiting Yuma again next year. Thank you to everyone who made it out to see us!
I had the great pleasure of playing with my trio at the La Jolla Community Center on March 27, 2015. It was one of those nights where everything was just right. Great weather, killer piano, beautiful artwork all around us, delicious hors d’oeuvres, and a wonderfully enthusiastic and attentive crowd. I was joined by bassist Rob Thorsen and drummer Julien Cantelm. We played several of my compositions off of After The Calm, some of my newer works, Chico Pinheiro’s “Tempestade,” Bill Evan’s “Waltz For Debby,” and Sonny Rollin’s “Pent-up House” as an encore. Huge thanks to everybody who made it out to see us, and also many thanks to the La Jolla Community Center for having us. We’re already looking forward to the next show there…
Last week, my trio had the honor of performing at TEDxUCSD 2014. I’ve been a huge fan of TED Talks for quite a while now, so it was so fun to get to be a part of them. Each speaker and performer was given 18 minutes to present, so we played three selections off of my upcoming release – End of the Block, Choro Pra Corrente, and After the Calm. We played for an audience of about 500, most of whom were UCSD students. One of the highlights was speaking with some of the students during the lunch break. Hopefully we’ll have a video of the performance to share soon. In the meantime, here’s a picture of us from back stage.
After our performances, the organizers presented us with this awesome picture of the trio:
We’ll look forward to doing this again hopefully soon! Many thanks to TEDxUCSD for having us!
One of the great things about being a teacher is the wonderful people you meet and get to know. This past week, I had the pleasure of bringing my trio to the home of one of my students (Ginny) for a house concert/conversation about improvisation. This turned out to be such an enjoyable and fulfilling experience. The gathering began with some delicious hors d’oeuvres, wine and chatting. It was great meeting people before we performed and they were very eager to talk about jazz and improvisation. The actual program began with a short talk by another piano student of mine, Arnold Mandell, who is the founding chairman and distinguished professor of psychiatry at UCSD, and a MacArthur Prize Fellow in theoretical neuroscience. His talk was about brain states that facilitate innovation. It was very interesting to hear his remarks and this helped us focus our attention on thinking about the process of improvisation.
Improvising is something I do on a daily basis, and while I put a lot of thought into how to get better at improvising, I don’t think too much about what is going on in my head as I am doing it. The attendees asked some great questions which led to Justin, Julien and me sharing some of the following ideas on the topic. On the surface, when we improvise, we are following some sort of guidelines for creating music in the moment. As a pianist, I work with the harmonic structure of a song, and use scales that are associated with each chord to create melodies. There are a lot of parameters that I can work with including varying rhythms, alterations of scales, enhancing scales with chromaticism, playing with intervals vs. linear lines, etc. We didn’t want to get too deep into the theories behind improvisation, but it was important to introduce the basic principles.
On of the ideas we arrived at in our discussion is that improvising on an instrument is much like having a conversation. In speaking, we rely on our vocabulary and our knowledge of how words are placed together to form sentences. We don’t preplan everything we say, but somehow we form coherent sentences as our thoughts are occurring. Improvising on instruments is exactly the same. Our vocabulary is scales, chords and rhythm. The grammar is how we put those scales, chords and rhythms together in a way that is musical.
So what about feelings? Do our emotions affect the way we improvise? Are we reacting to all five senses, or just a few of them? These were some of the more thought provoking questions. I think while it is possible to improvise without pouring any emotion into the music, it’s always much better to be approaching the music from a place of feeling. Sometimes, very challenging music gets in the way of musically channeling emotions, and we are more concerned with getting through the piece without “messing up.” That’s why we constantly have to practice – so that we can fully present in the music while we perform. Speaking about all this in between each of our songs had a great effect on how I performed. It constantly reminded me of what is most important in giving an emotionally compelling performance. Connecting with the audience through discussion and performance felt so good, and I hope to carry this on in future performances.
Thank you to all those who attended and shared this wonderful afternoon with us!
And thanks to Ginny and Bob for hosting, and we’ll look forward to next time!