Camp MMW in Jazz Times Magazine

 

Photo used in Jazz Times Article

Medeski, Martin & Wood’s Camp MMW

An “anti-camp” focuses on big-picture stuff

Click on the link above to read the article in Jazz Times Magazine to see how well Evan Haga captured the vibe from Camp MMW 2011.

I know it’s a hard thing to do, I’ve done nearly 30 entries in this blog, experienced two full weeks at camp over the last 3 years and I still feel as if I only scratched the surface in explaining what experiences at Camp MMW are really like. For a journalist to come into that environment on the final days of camp and try to grab hold of what was truly going on is extremely challenging. In my humble opinion, he did a great job expressing his first impressions of what life at camp MMW is like and beginning to grasp what it means to the return campers who come back year after year.

On the final day of camp I grabbed Evan’s business card so I could send him photos to use for the article as well as direct him to this blog.  Since he didn’t get many photos while there, he used one of the photos (pictured above) that I sent him  for the header of the article. Since I am featured in the picture it’s obvious that I was not the photographer (it was either Doug Cox, Ben Holzman, or Bob or Jessica Basil) but nonetheless, I got the credit for it!! I think it’s a great shot of me, Ericka Rosenburg and the excellent piano and guitar player (whose name I can’t recall right now but do remember that he was built like a linebacker) and Billy Martin during our student performance that brought the fuckin house down!

Also baritone sax player John Korchak has a great quote in there that articulately encapsulates the overall experience and curriculum at Camp MMW. Well said John!

I would have liked to hear a little more about the intensity and intimacy of the nightly MMW performances as well as the collaboration involved in putting together the Student Ensembles as I see those two aspects as the cornerstones that make camp so incredible and rewarding. In addition, the camaraderie that campers experience during and after camp wasn’t touched on. The relationships spawned during camp could easily encapsulate a completely new 2,000 word article but I do have to remind myself that Evan can’t go into depth into every aspect of camp as he is most likely working within a limitation of words. I would have spoken more about the shellfish dinner that we received on the final night of camp but the fact that he mentioned the food at all was probably all he could squeeze in.

All in all it’s great to see Camp MMW get some ink. It’s about time the rest of the world gets hip to the value and richness of Camp MMW! Thank you Evan Haga, it was great having you there with us and I wish you all the best as you continue your writing.

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Inspiration stalled

As I was walking over the Pulaski Bridge into Long Island City Queens to catch the 7 train into Times Square yesterday, I had a thought about my experiences at and after both my years at Camp MMW. Of course, the five days that I spent there, were absolutely incredible. I loved every riddim that I clapped and every note that I played. I have nothing but fond memories and inspiration to take away from my time spent in Big Indian learning from my favourite jazz trio of all time. However, the thought that occurred to me on my way to work was that I didn’t allow myself the time or freedom to allow my lessons from camp to truly sink in. Let me explain.

In both 2009 and 2011 I attended Camp MMW in the first week of August. Since August is one of the worst months to spend in New York City, my girlfriend and I planned vacations to visit friends and family for 2 weeks in our hometown of Seattle no more than 10 days after my return from camp. I consider myself lucky to be able to take nearly 3 weeks off in the middle of summer but my time away from my home in New York after such profound musical experiences had adverse effects on me.

In both years, I returned from Camp MMW inspired, and ready to do nothing but play music and compose spontaneously. However, with two weeks of vacation only ten days away I had to put my musical ambitions on hold and focus on making money at work to finance the trips out west. After making enough cash to float me through my trip, I packed up my bags and spent two weeks away from my bass, amp and recording studio.

While in Seattle very few, if any, opportunities to play music presented themselves between travelling to visit friends and family throughout the city and the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsula. Both years, by the time I came home to Brooklyn, that inspiration that was coursing through my veins upon my return from Camp MMW had subsided underneath the experiences of my time at home. After taking the better part of August off from work, I was in debt and had no more days off which  further limited my ability to pursue the lessons I had learned from the Jazz trio.  After both my experiences at camp I felt as if my inspiration was stalled and my motivation to play and teach others what I had learned had subsided.

I guess the only thing to do now is to go again next year and take the following week off to do nothing but play improvised music. Let’s hope I can make that happen this coming August!

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Radiohead on Colbert

I awoke this morning excited about watching my DVR. Last night I went to bed early but I recorded both the “Daily Show” and the “Colbert Report.” I always record the “Daily Show” but I set the “Colbert Report” to record because they were doing a special 1 hour show with interviews and performances by Radiohead featuring former Camp MMW 2009 guest professor Steve Bernstein playing trumpet in a killer horn section.

I watched the “Daily Show” program as well I watched online the extended interview he did with Congressman and Presidential Candidate Ron Paul. I don’t want to get into politics in this blog but for those of you who aren’t familiar with him, Ron Paul has some very interesting ideas that are worth listening to. I suggest following the links above and taking the time to hear him out.

Now, as for the “Colbert Report”. Radiohead was simply amazing. The scripted segments that Colbert normally do were funny and satirical and so were the interviews with the band but their performances were outstanding. Steve had some excellent melodies that he nailed perfectly in the 1st, 2nd and 4th songs. It automatically made me flash back to my time at his master class. Or when I was playing bass through Chris Wood’s set-up onstage in the performance hall while Steve Bernstein led us through changes off the top of his head. It definitely made me think of watching him perform on his slide trumpet with MMW on the 3rd night of camp in 2009.

Radiohead started out performing a very pretty ballad called “The Daily Mail” written by Thom Yorke. It was a kind of lackluster start to the performances. The next song called “Bloom” absolutely blew me away. In this tune they are using a “Riddim Style” with each member playing different rhythms in a way that time signature becomes irrelevant and it’s only the pulse of the music matters. Steve had a beautiful line as the band hits the “bridge” and is led into the final verse. The song made me immediately think of riddim practices at camp and watching MMW during the famed Bob Moses/Tupac Mantilla performance at this year’s camp.

The 3rd song of the show they played a tune called “Little by Little” that did not feature the horn section but was great nonetheless. Once again they used unusual time signatures and seemed to play opposing guitar and drum lines against one another to create their grooves and melodies. It is so obvious that Radiohead is one of the greatest bands of all time. Every single one of their albums has grown in maturity and their style has never stopped evolving. I am going to buy their new album right here off of their website and I suggest everyone else do the same.

The program concluded with a performance of the song  “The National Anthem” off their 4th album called Kid A. That is one of my favorite Radiohead songs with one of my favorite bass lines of all time! The performance of that song was great even if they did fade out the feed at the end of the song because they went over Comedy Central’s allotted time slot. They also performed a final song called “Morning Mr. Magpie” that was only available to watch online at Colbertnation.com

Basically, the performance was incredible and inspiring. All performances can be seen at colbernation.com I highly encourage everyone to take the time out of your day and watch these or, better yet, just go to radiohead.com and download their latest album. Hell, download all their albums if you don’t have them already. Each one is one sort of genius or another.

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F@*king Drummers!!

I once heard someone say that a band is only as strong as its drummer. I once heard someone else say a drummer will make or break a band. Those words could not be more true, that is if the drummer even shows up!

I challenge any musician to make a case that drummers are not the most difficult musicians to deal with. I don’t know what it is about them. Perhaps the ability to pound out complex rhythms takes away from their ability to act accordingly with the rest of society or to arrive to a gig on time. Maybe they know how rare a good drummer really is and they allow that knowledge to shift their attitude to that of a 5-year-old?

I’m not saying that all drummers are like this 100% of the time. In fact, I’ve found that most drummers (removed from musical surroundings or discussions) are some of the coolest people to talk to. However, once the conversation turns to organizing a rehearsal they transition to the maturity level of a toddler with ADD. They do things that make no sense within civilized society and then act as if they actions were completely justified. I will tell the story of what happened to me on Friday to highlight my points here.

When I returned from my vacation one week ago, I landed ready to play some music. I hadn’t jammed with anyone since camp had ended a month ago and was ready to apply my knowledge of spontaneous composition before it slipped to the back of my sub-conscience.  I began organizing a jam for Friday afternoon. I immediately found a guitarist and a keyboardist (both from Camp MMW 2011) willing and able to make it into Manhattan as well as a friend of mine who plays Tenor, Alto, and Baritone Sax who was not only willing to play but to host the jam his townhouse in Harlem. A few years back he converted his basement into a full music studio that can accompany a 10 piece band. All that was left was to find a reliable drummer (haha, reliable drummer!) I called my friend who plays and he immediately said he was totally down to play Friday afternoon in Harlem. I told him I would text him the address on Friday morning and we would take it from there.

Friday morning rolls around and after a late breakfast and a bike ride to Roosevelt Island, I get the address of the townhouse from the sax player (which is on 152nd st) and text it to everyone telling them to meet there around 3:30.

“No Problem, Siked!” replied the guitar player who was planning on driving up from Central New Jersey.

“Sounds good, I already have my keyboard and my amp ready to go. Gotta go to Coney Island now but will see you there at 3:30” replied the keyboard player.

Then comes the drummer’s text from Brooklyn: “Ugggghh, that’s pretty far dude, why don’t we just have the jam at my place?”

“Fuck!” I thought to myself. “Here we go!” I opted to make a phone call rather than continue this conversation via text message. The phone rang 3 times and then he picked up.

“Yo man, what’s the deal?” I said. “Now you don’t want to make the trip to Harlem?”

“Dude,” he started. “I just drank too much last night and I’m not feeling too good. I’m down if we can jam at my place.”

“I didn’t even know jamming at your place was an option,” I responded. “Why didn’t you mention this before? My friend in Harlem has been getting his studio ready for us all morning. I got my friend driving from Jersey and the keyboard player is coming up from Coney Island right now.”

“I didn’t know you had all these people coming out and I didn’t know how far away it was.”

“It’s Harlem man, you are in Bushwick, of course it’s far.” I shot back. “I told you 3 days ago it was gonna be in Harlem and you said you were down.”

The Perfect Drummer?

The Perfect Drummer?

“Look man, I’m just too hung over today and I can’t make it out.” He mumbled into the phone. “Why don’t you just do the jam without me?”

“Dude,” I pleaded, “You’re the drummer! Without you there is no jam unless we decide to play to a metronome but you know that’s not gonna happen.”

“Well I guess the jam just isn’t gonna happen man. I’m sorry.”

I hung up the phone and all I could think was… “Fuckin Drummers!!”

If anyone knows a solid (and socially stable) drummer in New York City, please send me his name and number because I need to find someone who can lay it down in a jam without forcing me to take a xanax in the planning process!

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Back from Vacay, now it’s time to start playing Music!

I got back from 2 weeks of visiting family and friends in Seattle on Tuesday. The trip was great and extremely relaxing. Now I’m back in Brooklyn and find myself trying to recapture the magical feeling and motivation that embodied me as I left the Full Moon Resort one month ago.

I’m not sure where I want my musical career to go from here but what I do know is that I want to play music with gifted musicians on the regular. I really don’t care much about playing gigs in the city or making money nor gaining popularity, I just want to play. I just want to improvise. Spontaneous composition is my new focus and if anyone in New York City or any of it’s outlying neighborhoods feel the same, please hit me up. I’d love to get together and feel the magic of having a conversation through my instrument with others. 

As well, I’d love to hear what my fellow campers have been up to since our magical experiences together. Please drop me a line and share with me and the rest of the followers of this blog how Camp MMW has affected your playing and where you are taking that inspiration.

From this point forward I want this blog to be much more interactive so please don’t be shy, subscribe to the blog and don’t be afraid to leave comments. And PLEASE, if any one of you find yourself  in New York please let me know and we will get together for a jam session or at least for a drink. I look forward to continuing my pursuit of spontaneous composition and hearing all about all of yours! Best of luck to you all, hope to hear from you soon.

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Photos from Camp

I want to apologize to all my followers/readers out there. Since I have gotten back from camp I have been struggling with staying motivated to continue my posts. Add to it that I am now on vacation and visiting family in the Pacific Northwest, my focus has been off of our experiences at camp.

BUT, I did want to post some photos from camp since I got some great ones. So enjoy and I will soon be writing out my experiences from camp as I remember them. 

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The Return

It has been three days since my return to New York City from the peace and serenity of the Catskill Mountains and most importantly, my return from Camp MMW. I’m overwhelmed with thoughts, finding myself at a loss to find the right words to describe this year’s experience.  Many profound experiences; not only interacting with MMW, but Medeski, Perceful, Martin and Woodalso spending time with their families and with my fellow campers come at me throughout my time at work.  The experience of hanging out with and learning from the special guests Bob Moses, Vernon Reid, and Bashir Attar was inspiring. Being able to see each one of them perform with MMW was mind-blowing!  Camp MMW once again exceeded my expectations. Often times it seemed as if the band was having just as much fun as the campers themselves.

Professor Illy BAs things begin to fall back a familiar routine here in Brooklyn, I remind myself that I need to continue to discipline myself and practice the things that were preached all week-long: “Space is the place,” “Breath with your solo,” “It’s all about the whole,” “Listen to one another,” “If you want it, you will got it!”

One thing that I know for sure, Chris Wood, Billy Martin and John Medeski are all master musicians and some of the coolest people I have ever met. I strive to match the expertise that each one of them possesses, not only as musicians but as human beings as well. Each and every one of them (and the members of their team, i.e. Liz, Kenny, Mike, Jed and Hyun) are all very kind and genuine people. In the following weeks I will relay to you all the musical lessons that we learned, the experiences that we shared, the meals that we ate and the memories that I covet. For now, I want to leave it at this:

The experience at Camp MMW 2011 was truly magical. I hope that the happiness and knowledge that MMW bestowed upon me stays with me for years and years to come. I feel truly blessed to be involved in this experience. Thank you to the whole MMW team. Life at camp is like a fantasy camp and I cherish every minute of it. You are doing an incredible thing here and I hope you can keep it going for many years to come.

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