Ornette Coleman Turns 85!

Happy Birthday Ornette! My dad took me to see him when I was a teenager and me and my friends used to dance around to”Dancing In Your Head” with its youthful, joyful energy. I met and talked to him at the Grammys in 2007 where he received a lifetime achievement award, we (Groove Collective) were nominated for Best Contemporary Jazz Album that year. Having a little chat with Ornette and getting my picture taken with him to show my dad, was definitely one of the highlights for me. He was so gracious and told me  to stop by his place when we were back in NY anytime. Someday I still hope to take him up on that, though I did get the feeling he is just that open and welcoming to everyone he meets. He gave an incredible and beautiful acceptance Dancing_in_Your_Headspeech which thankfully, benefited from not being televised, in that it surely would have been cut short. UnfoP1030439croprtunate for the viewing public though, as it was surely much deeper and more significant than most of the drivel that does get televised. His speech was not unlike his playing. I was drawn into what seemed familiar, almost soothing and then found myself lost in swirl of ideas and phrases that I knew would make sense, if I could only snap out of my trance! For a minute I thought someone slipped something into my drink. I can’t believe I didn’t take some video or more pictures but it was 2007 prior to my smartphone carrying days I did enjoy the moment though. Here‘s a link to a nice picture from his birthday party talking to Cecil Taylor.

Lew Soloff a New York Trumpet Great Passes On at 71

The jazz trumpeter, composer and actor Lew Soloff passed away in New York City on march 8th of 2015 after suffering an apparent heart attack. He was 71. Originally from New York, he studied trumpet at the Eastman School of Music and the Juilliard School. He was a sought after session musician appearing on records by Tony Bennett, Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithfull, Aretha Franklin, Lou Reed, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Barbra Streisand. He worked with Machito, Gil Evans, Orenette Coleman, Tony Scott, Maynard Ferguson, Tito Puente, Clark Terry’s big band, performed on numerous movie scores, and accompanied such renowned jazz artists as George Benson, Benny Carter, Lionel Hampton, Herbie Mann, Carmen McRae and Stanley Turrentine among others.

He was a longtime member of the Manhattan Jazz Quintet, Mingus Big Band and of the rock group Blood Sweat & Tears playing on on their hit “Spinning Wheel” among many other recording including the groups eponymous album that in 1970 won a the Grammy best-album. In the 1980s he was a member of Members Only, a jazz ensemble who recorded for Muse Records.

Soloff also made frequent guest appearances with jazz orchestras all over the world such as the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (directed by Wynton Marsalis) and the Magic City Jazz Orchestra (directed by Ray Reach).

He will be greatly missed by all who knew him and his work.

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Orrin Keepnews Jazz Record Producer Passes Away

Orrin Keepnews passed away March 1st on the eve of his 92nd birthday. Originally from the Bronx, Orrin Keepnews produced jazz luminaries such as Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderley and Bill Evans he also branched out into classical music with Kronos Quartet. He received Grammy awards for his liner notes to albums by Monk and Evans.

Busker’s Rights

Some of you may have seen the disturbing video of Andrew Kalleen being arrested for busking in the subway and being treated quite roughly a few months ago. The arrest was captured on video and brought new light to an issue that NYC musicians have navigated for generations. It has opened up a dialogue which has resulted in some better understanding about performers rights thanks to Local 802 Allegro writer Shane Gasteyer and the organization BuskNY.com which advocates for busker’s rights.

The main takeaway from the recent article in the January 15th edition of Local 802’s Allegro on busking is:

  • you do not need a permit to perform in the subway nor do you need an official Music Under NY (MUNY) banner
  • the police have the right to stop you if you are “impeding transit” and that judgement is made by the officer
  • you should follow the officer but wrongful arrest is still unjust
  • you can play for donations but not solicit which means you cannot only offer performance in return for payment

Musicians have always performed in public spaces around the city creating unexpected pockets of lively, joyful and creative entertainment in perfect harmony with the spirit of the city. Of course there are cases of bad playing or maybe something that just isn’t ones taste but for the most part the positive far out way the negative. There is so much great talent in New York it inevitably spills out into the streets. In fact it is the very nature of a public space without contracts, obligations or expectations that it can offer such freedom for artists. Many know the story of Sonny Rollins playing on the Williamsburg bridge while on professional hiatus searching for a new sound in 1959. He practiced 15 hours at a time through all seasons over the course of three years and then there was Moondog. Known to some as “the Viking of 6th Avenue” He could be found on Sixth Avenue around 52nd street wearing a makeshift viking helmet. A blind poet, composer, musician and inventor of instruments his music was considered avant-garde jazz and minimalist. From the late 1940s until 1972 he busked in midtown Manhattan. To most he appeared homeless however had an apartment in upper Manhattan and supported himself mainly from selling his music, poetry and musical philosophy. His music is said to have been a serious influence on Philip Glass and Steve Reich. So the next time you pass a busker in the subway remember they could be or may already have been an important piece of music history.

You can see the whole video of Kalleen’s arrest here.

Visit buskny.com for more information and advocacy for busker’s rights.


Afrika Bambaataa vs. Arthur Baker

Giant Step teamed up with W Hotels for a very special edition of “Gangs of New York” featuring Afrika Bambaataa vs. Arthur Baker last night, playing together for the very first time! If you are not familiar with Arthur, he produced the Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force classic “Planet Rock.”…and if you don’t know who Afrika Bambaataa is or “Planet Rock” then go look it up and come back. It was a real New York music moment, and great to see some old familiar faces while checking out these two legends. I met Arthur back in the heat of the old Giant Step parties through Maurice Bernstein (founder of Giant Step). Maurice has always been in touch with the key figures in NY’s underground music scene, connecting and supporting the players who embody the soul, jazz and groove of our music history while at the same time keeping his finger on the pulse of what’s new, next and hot. Back in the day when I was the house drummer at the Giant Step parties Maurice played a vital role in getting my first single “Satsuki” out on 8Balll Records under the Giant Step NYC name, which in turn lead to me working with Jazzy Nice and Danny Taneglia who both did remixes of the single. Eventually, Maurice and Giant Step also helped sign two bands I was in (Repercussions and Giant Step) get signed to Warner Bros. Not to mention all the incredible people that came and sat in with us at Giant Step like Grand Master Caz, Rahzel, Brandford Marsalis, Pharcyde, Steve Toure, Poucho, Potato Valdez, Michael Franti, Guru…I’m leaving so many out. I’ll have to get a more complete list and come back to this.
Gangs of NY

MOMENT NYC Pilot Program at PS110

We had our first MOMENT NYC program at PS110 on November 18th and it was wonderful success. We brought 50 minutes of New York City music history to the third, fourth and fifth grade classes of PS110 Florence Nightingale elementary school in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There was singing, dancing and clapping. One student reported it was ” the coolest thing that has ever happened at PS110!” We received a nice write up about our program in DNAinfo you can read here.




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