“Too Many Notes”

(Crossposted from To Us.  Permission to use noncommercially with attribution. I have very limited public access computer time, so if you desire a response, please email me at aek2013 at columbia dot edu for a quicker reply.)

A novice to jazz, I attended the NEC’s tribute to George Russell with an all Russell composition performance.  I plunked down in a seat on the aisle in the middle of the hall.

The students, all dressed in beat-wannabe black, clomped on stage, but the pianist was smiling a genuine toothy smile, and he didn’t appear to be any student!  Bradley Hatfield was “subbing” for the scheduled pianist.

And then the music started and I was blown away – literally – by the amped up volume, but also by the must-move beat and rhythms.

Just behind me, a tremulous voice was offering some syncopated running commentary.  Very pointed and informed commentary.

I was busy, busy with “getting” the sound – there was some five chime steam engine horn (EXCELLENT AUDIO SAMPLES AND MUSIC REFERENCES HERE) – approaching and leaving/fading.  But the tempo wasn’t right for it – too frantic.

The students were featured in riffs, and all of them seemed to be in the spirit – smiling, moving, transported in the moment and the music.

The audience was moving, too, and the first half of the performance sped on by – a definite express.

By that time, I learned that the commenter seated just behind me was none other than the composer himself.  Mr. Hatfield and the NEC Jazz Ensemble conductor, Ken Schaphorst, came down to have a chat and to say hello.  George was asked what he thought of the performance so far.

“Too many notes,” he asserted.  Then he sang some busy, busy scat to illustrate the busy-ness of the students.

Bradley – seemingly always smiling and diplomatic, covered by responding, “It’s the day in which we live, George.”  “It’s a new generation.”

I thought about that during the second half of the performance, which was still too loud for my taste, but enthusiastically and genuinely played.

How many of those performers rode trains cross country?  How many have heard, listened and paid attention to the sound of a five chime horn, learned and felt the pacing of a train – accelerating, maintaining momentum and deccelerating into a station?  How many grew up hearing trains as an everyday event?

They might do well to listen to some soundtracks of steam locomotion and also of riders on horseback, as both of those rhythms, tempos and musical sounds are rife throughout classical and jazz music.

Russell was lauded throughout the evening, but I admired his honesty throughout.  Age allows for raw honesty, and George provided it if the students will only hear it.

The program was magnificent:

Cubano Be Cubano Bop
All About Rosie
African Game
It’s About Time, Part II

George wasn’t so bad, either. What luck to have a private tutorial by the master himself.

Take the trains, kids.


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  1. via Rhapsody.  Worth listening to whether you are a fan or a noob to Russell’s music.

    • Tigana on October 29, 2007 at 10:50 pm

    “Amadeus” – 🙂
    Lovely writing  – interesting combination of music and the romance of the rails. Thank you, aek.

    • snud on October 30, 2007 at 1:10 am

    Bill Bruford’s tune “Sample and Hold”. This is from one of Bill’s first solo albums. You may remember him as the drummer for Yes. This is the same guy who plays on “Roundabout” and he wrote this tune. Bill Bruford, drums; Jeff Berlin, bass; Alan Holdsworth, guitar shredder extraordinaire and I believe that’s Dave Stewart on keyboards. “Rock goes to college” indeed – Click play if you dare… 😉

    (Nice essay, aek!)

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