I suppose what really is happening every morning is an example of faith. I was a double degree student at Oberlin, Jazz and Religion (until I realized I was being redundant), so matters of the spirit have always been central to my personal and artistic missions. The idea of faith in a biblical sense always seemed too distant to me, Job, Abraham and the other Old Testament characters have this weight of the ages, the dust of mythology that disconnects them from much of modern life. In fact, I would argue that modernity prefers ‘blind faith’ in lieu of real faith because it is easy, quick and ready to package and sell.
The very essence of faith for me is the freedom to doubt, to question, to risk not believing in what you have spent your life persuing. To have nakedly faced those choices and risk entropy and still continue on the hard path… Let me tell you my brothers and sisters, weather its dealing with an ailment, the loss of a loved one, struggles with career (in my case the perils of the modern ‘jazz’ career) etc., that is FAITH.
So, each morning I awake and think ‘is this the day I walk away from it all’ and everyday I pass the test and continue on, through the lack of gigs or teaching opportunities, the financial struggles, the failure to get that job, gig, tour, review, grant, big chance to share my passion for music with anyone who will listen.
However, along the way, there are these experiences that just vibrate with faith and validate completely everything in my life up to that moment.
Case is point. December 19th the night of the memorial concert here in Boston for John Tchicai. I was blessed to befriend John through Garrison Fewell. I was lucky to perform with John in Garrison’s Variable Density Sound Orchestra a few times in NYC and Boston. We all had some memorable musical exchanges as well as some classic conversations accompanied by good food and even better wine.
The week before the concert was shocking, my dear friend and six-string intergalactic sonic soul mate, Garrison was diagnosed with cancer and admitted to the hospital for surgery. This was after several days of severe pain, including one Sunday where we all (Garrison, Todd Brunel, Jerry Sabatini, Curt Newton, Jacob William, Charlie Kohlhase was in absentia, and myself) were rehearsing for the concert. Garrison played through the pain, in fact the music seemed to numb it, at least for the few hours we were working. In this regard, I believe (being a Pythagorean, and somewhat of a mystic in my spare time) music has potential healing properties; that in fact music is an energy (vibrations… its science look it up) that can be used for good or evil. Three thousand years of trance music (from whirling Dervishes, to Gregorian monks, to Coltrane and Sun Ra) can’t be wrong. All music has power and it always has, we just forget it from time to time.
Ultimately we had to play the concert without the bandleader, but we all rose to the call of the spirit and played from a deep and personal place. A wonderful thing happened that night, as we played this amazing music by our departed friend John Tchicai it was clear that it was a celebration OF a life in music well lived. However, more importantly it became evident that the music was FOR Garrison. The dead don’t need music, the living do, and that night we played to heal one of our own, to heal ourselves, and to feel with every vibration on our fingers, lips and hands what faith is.
The night ended with cheers and a standing ovation, I believe we all felt something of the mystic power of music that night. Included in this blog are three clips, comprising the entirety of the music portion of the concert. The music speaks for itself. Thank you John for the sonic avenues to traverse and thank you to all the musicians who played that night as conduits of faith.
I have posted here music players from the CD’s band camp pages so you can listen to the tracks and/or purchase downloads. Although the actual street dates for these releases are in 2013, I am making available both digital and physical options to purchase (hit the links on the album titles above) for motivated buyers who want to obtain these CDs as ‘pre-release’ specials. The Octet(o), Pablo and I are all very proud of these releases and hope you enjoy them. CD release concerts for both projects will be announced soon.
On December 15 we played at the Open Sound Studio Series in Union Sq. Somerville (Some great camera work in this video, and between the decor and Jorrit and my haircuts it kind of looks like we are playing in a room at the Overlook Hotel from Kubrick’s The Shining). Jorrit did not have his lyricon so we were without our electronic element, but regardless this video is a great example of what this band does. The first minute is a kind of intense interactive free pointillistic exchange which gradually comes to a simmer. From there the set visits all types of territory; solo moments, duets (including a beautiful, almost Romantic era ballad between Jorrit and Junko), some swinging odd meter jazz, fast free bop with noise, and lots more in between. I hope you enjoy it.
We hope to record this winter and I will keep you posted.
This summer, for me, has been a particularly fruitful one filled with music projects of all sorts that have challenged me and expanded my comfort zone of creativity in unexpected ways. These projects have included recording with jazz vocalist Karen Fraggos some very soulful and sultry jazz and R&B classics.
Performing in a monthly series with BOLT and improvising electro-acoustic quartet that includes Jorrit Dijkstra, Junko Simons, either Curt Newton or Eric Rosenthal and myself. Performing with the Junk Kitchen Players on a monthly concert series that most recently focused on classical and traditional Brazilian music.
Recording with the Pablo Ablanedo Octet all original music by Pablo which blend Argentinean music traditions with modern jazz. Finally my own solo recording project called ‘American Grace’ conceived in four days of solitude at my home studio thus completing a decade long project to complete the first ever solo jazz guitar recording trilogy.
(This is a sneak peek of a recent mix from my ‘American Grace’ session – let me know what you think)
This variety of work got me thinking about a philosophical conundrum in art. Is diversity or individuality more important? Specifically in music, do players thrive more as jack-of-all-trades or as iconoclasts, or is there a creative middle ground which includes both? This middle ground was the most interesting concept for me. I certainly know many talented ‘Jacks’ that can fill in for any band. They sound so good you would never know they were sitting in, but they also may not leave an impression with you because they play so ‘right’ that they don’t stand out. I also know some ‘Iconoclasts’ that really thrive at doing their thing, playing their tunes, improvise their way… but take them out of their comfort zone and watch out for the train wreck. What about the middle way, what I call ‘The Jazz Omnivore’. Pretty trendy title, I know, but it does sum up what is expected these days for musicians who are going to survive in the industry, especially the so-called jazz business. The Jazz Omnivore as I see it (and hear it) has to focus on two basic things… fluency of vocabularies and tenacious development of individuality. Music is a language with hundred of dialects and accents, we can’t be expected to know or master them all. However (and I speak specifically for American jazz players because that is what I am and that is my common tongue, but players from around the world can use this same logic as applied to their lingua franca) it must be expected that a player is fluent in the various vocabularies of their indigenous music culture. In the world of jazz, I break the language down into 3 vocabularies; Swing, Bebop and Post-bop. As a player and educator I make sure that the next generation of players knows about and can improvise, accompany, and phrase using those three vocabularies. Stylistically speaking, that covers the whole history of jazz which can include its’ folk roots of the blues to dixieland, to swing, to bop, to hard bop and cool to modal, free and fusion. The so-called post-modern era of today is filled with master players who have discovered new ways of playing and showcasing their individual voices by combining these three vocabularies in fresh ways.
These vocabularies also serve as platforms from which a player can ‘side-step’ to other styles. The blues is the foundation for Jazz, Country, Rock, Funk, basically all American folk and popular music. So with a strong foundation in the Swing vocabulary, for example, a ‘jazz player’ can jump into an R&B or rock setting and find common ground. Bebop with its technique and linear style can help a player jump into Klezmer, Bulgarian, Argentinean styles. With an understanding of Post-bop elements a player can wander into a modern classical, European improv, or even a Punk setting and find ways to make the music happen. Most importantly, however, may be the reverse approach in which a modern player should be able to absorb and incorporate elements from other styles that interest and inspire them into their improvisational vocabularies.
This brings me to my final point; individuality. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the fluency of the three jazz vocabularies and their ability to help ‘side-step’ into other styles actually promotes individuality. Since there is just so much music out there to explore, each improviser is inevitably going to find their own path and own combination of vocabularies and other dialects (music styles). The goal is to discover your own voice by concentrating on what you are naturally attracted to as an improviser. One player may really dig more traditional Be-bop early on and then later discover playing in odd meters and exotic minor modes gives their style a unique approach to harmony and phrasing. Another may really love the raw earthy articulations and timbres of the blues and free music but then connect that with the energy of punk and electric effects for a unique, personal sound. The combinations, and therefore, the potential for true individuality are literally endless.
Over the years my own playing has been described by the press, audiences, and other musicians as many, often contradictory things. I have been called a virtuoso, but my playing has also been called sloppy. I have been dubbed an ‘avant-guarde’ type player, as well as a ‘traditionalist with a strong sense of history’. I have been told I am a rootsy player that has soul, I have also been defined as ‘too intellectual’. I have been criticized for playing too many notes by some and for not being chopsy enough by others. The best, most frequent adjective used is ‘quirky’, which usually means they don’t know what to say. For years I thought they were all missing the point, focusing on the wrong things or at least not really understanding my music. But now (as a self proclaimed Jazz Omnivore celebrating individuality and the continuing journey into diverse music vocabularies) I realize that ALL those opinions are spot on CORRECT! The Jazz Omnivore can and should be all those things to all sorts of music fans, and maybe the Jazz Omnivore will lead the way for a new generation of musicians and music fans to experience music. The audience already has unlimited access to the whole history of all the world’s music (via i-tunes, spotify etc)… isn’t it time for musicians to also taste everything offered on the menu?
‘Overall, I am very happy with the whole experience. It was very challenging, I tested myself everyday, at least 6 hours of solo guitar in a row for 4 days was exhausting but joyful. I worked really hard to keep things fresh and let the improvisation flow, there is a lot of risk on this CD, very different from the others and that was the hard part, trying not to repeat myself (consciously at least). I can’t wait to send you some tracks for review…’
‘Interesting stories… the first day of recording I could only practice and warm up until about 3pm because they were doing construction on the street and jack hammering all day. As it turned out this movie called ‘The Tree of Life’ was on cable in the a.m so I watched it. It started out with a voice over of this quote… ‘the nuns taught us there are two ways through life, the way of nature and the way of grace. Grace doesn’t try to please itself, it accepts being slighted, forgotten and disliked, it accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself, get others to please it over them and have its own way’. whoa… talk about instant karmic inspiration.
‘I had been meditating on grace, trying to dig deeper into it, but on too much of a big picture scale… ‘American’ grace… when you look outside there is no f*cking grace in America, not in politics, nor culture, nor education.. however, when you look inside (nothing like solitude to help with that) one can find it. Curious how that movie was on randomly at 9am on a tuesday to help me discover grace, relax and make this music. Of course.. I thought this CD does not have to be just about defining grace or trying to capture it in sound… really it is about duality in life… and you know I always compose about duality… that is in my wheel house. Grace can be how one allows themselves to embrace the duality inherent in life and humanity.’
‘ I was able to allow everything… case in point; extra sounds from the guitar. I was 8 hours away on monday from using the manhattan (my other guitar)… too many buzzes and weird sh*t on the artist. (my main Guild guitar a 1974 Artist Award) the top is opening up, someday it will have an even more huge sound and be unstoppably joyful, but for now it has growing pains (buzzes). I took off every washer and nut on that f*cking thing… and guess what? that was it all along. Especially those washers and nuts under the pots. So the pots are just floating in the holes with bits of paper jammed in to keep them from falling out, paper is jammed in the pick-up so that stopped rattling and when the tailpiece vibrated I just had to slap it to make it stop. So.. yes there are some important, keeper takes that have some random buzzes here and there, I play hard and grace tells me that is part of my sound… I can’t play percussively and not expect the sound of percussion to be there.’
I hope you found those excerpts interesting. Now the hard part. Mix, master, do a new photo shoot, get the layout done, get the liner notes written etc. etc. publicity etc… I have all that stuff lined up and most of it scheduled already so things are staying on track.
“The philosopher and educator Joseph Campbell once said that ‘Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths,’” writes Hofbauer in the campaign notes. “This has been my mantra through many years of study, preparation and contemplation in the music I compose. The narrative elements of the trilogy operate on those two levels, the public and private. It represents the past, present and future of American society and culture, as well as my own self-awareness.”
Hofbauer’s American Triology dissects and examines American culture through spontaneous original compositions and stripped-down interpretations of musical touchstones that span country, jazz and rock. These stark, personal statements showcase not only Hofbauer’s technical skills as a musician, but also his trademark intelligence and humor, as he deftly puts his own affable, sometimes jaw-dropping spin on the music of everyone from Johnny Cash and Hank Williams to Andrew Hill and Charlie Parker to Nirvana and Van Halen.
“Since the late 1990s, the Boston guitarist has honed a singular approach to solo recitals, marked by distilled melodies and expansive repertoire,” writes the Boston Globe‘s Andrew Gilbert in his recent feature article. “No other guitarist in jazz has developed a solo approach as rigorous, evocative, and thoughtful as Hofbauer. Recorded largely without overdubs, the American trilogy can be seen as political commentary on the nation post-9/11, but he’s charting internal landscapes as much as taking the country’s pulse.”
Supporters of Hofbauer’s campaign can choose from perks including exclusive pre-release access to the recording ($25), autographed copies of the complete trilogy ($60), jazz guitar and composition lessons ($125), a producer credit ($200) and a private 90-minute home concert ($300). Portions of each amount are tax deductible. Complete campaign details can be found at http://www.indiegogo.com/EricHofbauer
We basically had a day off on Monday so we went to the old historic part of Bogota, a neighborhood called La Candelaria. Before I go much further it must be stated for the record that this tour would be in dire straits without the translating expertise of Marianne Solivan, the vocalist for the trio. She is fluent in Spanish and has ironed out more than a few conversations during this week that were wrinkled messes of Spanish, English and French. What we saw on our trip to La Candelaria was powerful, scenes of great wealth and great poverty, both of which are burned in my memory. Cities all over the world display this disparity but it was in sharp focus that day for me. We had a long walk, visited many historic sites and marveled how the Andes literally cradle this city. They tower over this sprawling urban center like a stoic reminder of some ancient truth. The most beautiful part of Bogota however, has to be the Colombian people, who are generous, friendly, and very welcoming. We stopped at a wonderful cave like restaurant to hydrate at the end of our day called the Bruja (witch in Spanish). They had amazing fresh fruit drinks and empanadas. They called us a cab and we had the wildest ride home I’ve ever experienced. The fist half was all speed and twisting turns on the main road beside the mountain. There are very few traffic lights in Bogota, cars and motorbikes merge, swerve and stop on a dime with just centimeters to spare with the grace and poetry of a bullfighter. I am sure once and awhile someone gets the horns but our journey was more of the graceful sort (although not without its downright terrifying moments). The second half of the drive was what most of Bogota commuting is all about… traffic jams. I have never been in such heavy traffic. LA, Boston, and NYC have got nothing on Bogota when it comes to the daily commute. We have learned quickly here to add an extra hour or so to any commute time.
Tuesday and Wednesday was back to work – and I mean work! The actors and the crew especially had some intense days of rehearsal. Tuesday was a 13 hour rehearsal day, and Wednesday we ran the show (3.5 hours long) twice, once as a dress rehearsal and then we had opening night. With just four days of rehearsal, a crew of Colombians, French and Americans who could barely speak each other’s languages, 4 cast members in brand new roles, and altitude related fatigue we all pulled together and put on a great opening night to a very engaged and receptive Bogota audience who loved both the play and our music.
‘Julius Caesar’ or ‘Julio Cesar’ in Spanish, was brought to Bogota as part of the Festival Iberoamericano De Teatro, the worlds largest theatre festival. Many of the shows are smaller productions, our production is what you would call epic, it is a large scale show that is very lengthy with a lot of complicated text (Shakespeare) and a big cast. Plus it has us, the jazz trio playing behind and between the action. It is an amazing honor to be involved with such a production on a world stage such as this. Here is a very recent article from the Miami Herald about the positive impact of this festival on Bogota, Colombia and South America.
We have 4 show left and I will post again after a few more adventures and many more empanadas. Adios.
In case you are unaware of this part of my music life, let me catch you up. In 2008 the American Repertory Theatre in Harvard Square put on a production of ‘Julius Caesar’ directed by French director Arthur Nauzyciel. The concept was to update the play with a post-modern recasting of the action to take place in Kennedy era America. The text was all original Shakespeare but the setting was pitch perfect early 60′s and the costumes, sets and music illustrated that. So… instead of the ‘chorus’ in the original play, this production had a jazz trio (Marianne Solivan, voice, myself on guitar, and Blake Newman, bass). We played jazz standards (with lyrics that matched the mood of the action or text) behind, in front of, and in between most of the scenes.
In 2009 and then again in 2010 and 2011 the French theatre company, Centre Dramatique Nationale in Orleans produced tours in France of ‘Julius Caesar’ where we recreated the exact same production as here in America but with surtitles in French. All of the tours were amazing experiences and the show was enthusiastically received by French audiences.
Now we are taking this show to Bogota to perform in the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogota, the largest the theatre festival in the world.
Like with my first solo tour of France in Fall of 2011, I will be blogging about the interesting experiences along the way.
Today’s blog is just a little prelude and introduction to the music. In early 2011 the Julius Caesar Jazz Trio (Marianne, Blake and myself) made a recording of all the music from the show. CDN, the french production company released the CD and sells it at shows. It is not yet available for sale in the U.S. but I hope it will soon become available through digital outlets in a few months. In the meantime, here is a track from the recording. It is ‘Gone With the Wind’, and our arrangement is inspired by the Julie London version. In the show we play this song as part of a party going on backstage while Brutus and others speak of the end of Pompey’s life and Caesar’s power grab.
More to come once we arrive in Bogota on April 1.
Below is a message from my good friend, composer, pianist and bandleader Pablo Ablanedo. The Octet is beginning a journey into the world of crowd sourced funding to help finance the next CD recording, and I am excited to be a part of it and help Pablo raise the money to realize this project. It has been such a joy to be in this band. Pablo and I share a love of Stravinsky and crazy poly-rhythms and his new work is steeped in both. The band is a world class outfit filled with some of the most creative players on the global jazz scene today and most of them just happen to make Boston their home. Greg Hopkins and Phil Grenadier are on trumpet, Daniel Ian Smith and Kelly Roberge on saxes, Fernando Brandao on flute, Fernado Huergo on bass, Franco Pinna and Bertram Lehmann on drum and percussion, Pablo on piano, and finally myself on guitar. Please visit Pablo’s Kickstarter page and support us if you can. FYI, I also appear in the KS video looking very ernest as I stare into the camera. I think I missed my true calling of working on infomercials.
(From Pablo Ablanedo)
Today I’m making a very special announcement.
In order to raise funds for the recording of Recontradoble, which will be the octet’s third album, we are launching a fundraising campaign today on Kickstarter.com. I hope that you’ll want to be a part of the adventure of making this new record a reality.
So, please take a look at our Kickstarter page,
PABLO ABLANEDO OCTETo - Kickstarter Link
where you can see our video presentation, listen to recent live recordings of pieces that will be on Recontradoble, and learn more about the group and the album. You can also follow the project’s progress and hear new recordings on my blog, http://octeto.tumblr.com/
If you decide to contribute, there are a variety of rewards for you that correspond to different levels of donation. Importantly, Kickstarter is set up so that nobody pays anything until the project’s funding goal is 100% reached. Our goal for Recontradoble is to raise $7000 in 58 days, from March 9th until May 6th, and we greatly appreciate any and all contributions that you can make.