The kind Turkish musicians play Apollo-like on the lyra and ney
Then joke outside the theater under the bright Autumn sun and smoke smooth e-cigarettes
Inside the cathedral where French kings were crowned
The Priest chants and the space overwhelms my tiny flying overtones
A team of New Zealanders is on hand to film and open the wine bottles
For a fleeting moment, topped with an avocado, the world is at peace again.
At the heart of a once booming river harbor
The boom times long since gone
The signs faded and the buildings worn and crumbling away
Youths roam the filthy streets looking for action
Light rain and black skies frame the urban apocalypse
Emptiness and desperation prevail
The only hope the destination signs of the neon-lit trains and buses
In groups they approach me, sniffing prey
Then quickly they move on into the dirty blanket of rain
Sensing like animals that their timing or luck was off tonight
I arrive in the bright morning sun to the old coal mining district of the town, now a museum in which today improvised music is on the cards. As lady luck would have it, there is a bikers’ convention directly outside- later in the day the roaring engines would do their utmost to drown out the acoustic instruments playing amongst the relics of the mine. As I had a good hour to kill I wandered around and observed the circus. Some of my observations:
– the bikers are predominantly overweight, oftentimes morbidly so. I put this down to a lack of movement and diet. As far as the second point goes, the only food on offer was carbohydrates in their most nasty form- popcorn, fries, bread complimented with the general stench of overused sunflower oil. The bikers seem to wear their extra weight with pride though.
-a plethora of faded and dubious tattoos.
– a bonanza of leather, patches, vests, and beards though I thought that if one could quickly replace the leather with some plain suits they could all immediately pass as bank clerks.
– much ado about nothing bikes where decibels seems to take priority over true power and speed.
– the music amplified through the PA is, I suppose, to underscore the general “toughness” of this whole meeting. But what exactly is tough here? When you listen through the walls of distortion to the actual chords and rhythms ( rather not mention the lyrics)- it is watered down, weak, mild, meek, tasteless, flat, repetitive in the worse sense, and without the slightest hint of cajones. Does the music they listen to reveal their true nature? I posit that it absolutley does. I was certainly very damn tempted to tip one of the harleys and take some on though this could have simply been the music’s effect on me. The toughest creatures I could spot anywhere were the spiders spinning some truly awesome webs on the iron stairwells.
And so: not impressed. Shortly after the improve gig began and a lively crowd turned out to take it in despite the throttles outside. Just another day in the fascinating landscape of the Nieder Rhein.
As the heat gradually subsides and the early Autumn sun shines down I have a couple of precious moments to reflect on the last month. My running sandals got me through some of the rougher weeks in August and luckily the mountains were in the main close by. Now that I’m back in Cologne and Moers I have to make do with strutting up and down the Rhein which is easy and sweet in the September sun.
Here is a new film of the “Well Tempered Sruti Box” shot by Fabio Dondero:
I’m going in. It’s been a while but I am finally heading down to Nis in southern Serbia to do some playing with my Serbian Accordion friend Christo Armani. Posted on my website, it is unlikely that anyone will make the pilgrimage to the Cika Duca Cafe in Nis to listen to us play on Saturday night but one never knows. Hot like hell could well be, the days are spent here hiding in the shadows whilst the balkan scents drift past: squashed fruit on asphalt, perfumes, diesel, cigarette smoke and grilled meat. My only modest goal is to learn a few more songs and come back home in one piece, in some mysterious ways a task of mythical proportion.
Each small candle lights a corner of the dark.
When I remember the great John Taylor I’ll remember much more than a brilliant pianist and composer. I’ll remember a kind, gentle, and generous man who was full of light, always cheerful and ready to give- a truly beautiful soul who will be dearly missed by so many.
I was delighted to read that Ahmet had again written for our latest Root70 Release coming this Fall. Here are his liner notes:
BETWEEN THESE COVERS lies the hard-won harvest of a journey through the collective minds of these now staunchly middle-aged jazz gentlemen making up the group “Root70″. It is a journey in which beauty and darkness, sweat and blood, pleasure and sorrow are to be gleaned along the way; for this mind is a strange land, endowed with a glow of genius yet beset by all the trials and tribulations that life on the eternal jazz road brings with it, a road which these lads have been roaming since more than two decades.
Root 70’s career has been an erratic one, gregarious months of playing in the likes of Cave 61 in Heilbronn or the “Caipi Bar” in Bedburg-Hau and a plethora of other faceless German towns, alternating with lonely Goethe Institute tours of every almost every country ending with the suffix “stan”. For all the inconsistency of their march to fame, they’ve managed to earn the unanimous admiration of their contemporaries and to forge an ineradicable place for themselves in the international jazz microtonal and odd-meter jazz hall of fame. 4 Marriages, 8 children, and 2 mortgages down the track, the lads are still firing and their decision to cut an album of standards in these times of musical hyper-inflation of complexity is nothing less than bold.
It has been several years since I last had the pleasure to write about this band. This time an ailing kidney ( I kid thee not) has kept the author this side of the Atlantic and a black and white photo of the band and the studio sides are all the author has to work off. The faces are still recognizable, though I can clearly discern the marks left by a life dedicated to jazz. Rückert strikes me as whimsical and reflective and I can almost see the title of one of his masterpieces “Sadness surrounds us” etched into his pupils. Penman comes over as quietly confident, a man who knows his bass inside out from spike to tuning pegs. Wogram is serenely relaxed as ever and alto man Chisholm could easily pass as an IRA hitman or a coiled python ready to strike.
The premise for these sides was a simple one: each member of the combo bought with him his favorite standards and the selection was to be honed by some club dates in Berlin, one of which bassist Penman had to miss due to NYC traffic. Immediately after 2 smoking hot nights in the A-trane Club, the band hit the Funkhaus Studios at Nalepastrasse Berlin and cut the songs into the tapes- once again giving us the pleasure of enjoying almost exclusively first takes- that always was how these men like to roll in the studio.
The album “Wise Men can be Wrong” ( a title gleaned from the gorgeous lyrics of “I concentrate on You”) is a wonderful take on the great American songbook. With every song, the deep love and respect of these musicians for the tradition shines through and dare I say, fills me with hope. Having taken their jazz to such daring extremes on past albums like “Fahrvergnuegen” and “Root70 on 52nd 1/4 St.” it is delightful and deeply satisfying to hear them return to some of the music that surely first inspired them as young jazz cubs.
There is no irony here, there is simply profound and nuanced musicianship returning to simple song forms and breathing new life into them. If my notes for this gem are briefer than others, it is because I believe the band has made a statement with these sides that needs little if any justification or explanation and I for one will have this baby spinning for a good while to come.
Many of us set out on life long journeys and never return- it is a joy to hear some wayfarers arriving back home.
After a whirlwind of a month I finally have a day in Moers to write a few words here. At last night’s beautiful concert int he Ritter hall of the Museum I noticed a few sad faces as they asked me why I hadn’t written at all, why I hadn’t been here so much, and why I didn’t answer any of the emails they had sent me. It seems that I had disappointed a few with my erratic communications.
The last 4 weeks have been packed with several tours and recordings. During times like these when I am forced to write a lot of music I tend to fall behind in day-to-day communication. I plan to catch up in the coming weeks so count on me, dear music fans of Moers, to be right back at you.
Coming up we have the “Fete de la Musique” in the wonderful Schloss Park on the longest day of the year and one I always like to celebrate, the 21st of June. As some of you know, I am in to my natural wines and am delighted to have Surk-ki from La Vincaillerie coming from Cologne to set up a Natural wine Bar next to our Jazz. Jamming in a sublime park on the solstice with a natural wine bar right there? Will that make up for me not answering your mails? Ich hoffe ja ihr Lieben!
A recent request and my response:
Dear Mr. Hayden Chisholm,
My name is xxxxxxxxx and I am a really big jazz music lover from Croatia, 65 years old.
Just now I am told (JAZZ ´N´ MORE Nr. 3/2015 from Switzerland) you have a new album entitled ”BREVE” and I have a big interest in this CD.
Mr. Chisholm, maybe you can send me an free copy of the CD (physical copy)?
I´d be really very grateful for it.
I will do my best in promoting the CD here in Croatia.
Thank you in advance for your understanding and help.
Also, have you any chance to send an autographed picture of yourself (with saxophone)?
thanks for the mail. I am happy to send you a a Cd and also the signed picture. I can also send you 2 CDs or even 3 or even 5 but I would like to ask you to do something for me in return if possible. I see you are from Croatia – I am a big fan of Rakia in all its forms. Would you be able to send me 3 bottles of Rakia in exchange for the CDs?
Thanks and Greetings,
Kilometers traveled since the last post on this blog: 13700
Number of International flights taken during this time: 17
Air miles Collected: 0
Number of Countries visited: 7
Number of bus transfers to terminal and number of direct air-bridge disembarkation from these flights: 16 – 1
Average loud on-stage feedback per soundcheck: 2.5
Number of times WordPress refused to upload photos to this blog: 6
Number of attempted and aborted blog updates: 6
Average number of espresso’s drunken per day: 3.5
Most expensive one: Tegel Airport €3,80
Average number of parallel dips, pull- ups, and hanging leg raises per day: 17
Average number of Avocados consumed per day: 1.5
Number of times I was asked if I enjoy what I’,m doing: >10
Cost of two pencils and pencil sharpener in Lucern: CF 15.80
Pages of Music Manuscript paper semi-legally copied: 160 Read the rest of this entry »
It is with great pleasure that I can announce my two summer master classes and workshops. The first will take place in France in a wonderful little village in late July and all the infos can be found here.
The second will be my annual class in Greece on Mount Pileon and this year we celebrate our 10th anniversary of the Music Village. All of the infos can be found here. Please also contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Just spent a week in the wonderful acoustic spaces of the Abey de Noirlac in France. The main focus during the time was on working with bee sounds as the installation next year with New Zealand photographer Anne Noble will revolve around the theme of the bees. However we were also able to spend some nights in the abbey and record to our heart’s desire. Here are a couple of pieces from the space. We were often joined by some owls in the background.
O my goodness- I believe for the first time in my life I actually enjoyed a Theater rehearsal. This could be to do with the fact that the Moers City theater is the smallest in Germany which proudly employes a grand total of 5 Actors. The rehearsals of the Kleist piece “Michael Kohlhaas” involve one actor, the director, and yours truly. The sentences of Kleist are a wonder to behold and they often finish with 3 or 4 verbs in a row to get you thinking. Premiere is next Monday.
Following the rehearsal I marched the main drag of Moers up and down a few times- really just to let off a bit of steam and get to know some of the locals. Pipes can be a good
ear ice breaker in certain situations.
The sounds from the square outside merge gently with the music on the inside. It was a pleasure to spend some time observing how the people reacted to the piece and for me personally it gave me a real thrill to take an espresso outside and hear some of my dear Fibonacci chords singing out from a distance…
Here is a German review of the show.
After some long days and nights we finally finished the music for the new piece in Lallonga. Robert Nacken made a superb surround mix in the huge space and everything is ready for the opening next week. The piece uses the human voice and the sax and is based around my overtone work. Of the 15 years of work with Rebecca Horn this one is the strongest in my opinion. Robert has mixed in it a way which makes it impossible to tell if I am actually playing live in the space or if the recording is playing. The piece will stay through until October which is exciting.
Within the space of 6 days the Agios Lavrentios Brass band managed to raze some ceilings in 3 cities in Greece and make their debut recording. The little seeds that were planted almost 10 years ago in the village now start to grow. This was the band one day after crashing into Volos. One might wonder why there are no brass around although we are technically a “brass band”- we too are still wondering about that detail
And from Athens I’m catapulted into the huge space of Lallonga in Palma where I am creating a new piece for the Rebecca Horn show “Glowing Core”. The huge acoustics of the space are a challenge but the 12 second delay is a soft and smooth one, well suited to the flying overtones .
Writing now from the legendary Bauer Studios in Ludwigsburg. Right off the bat I was surprised by the absence of wood and immediately impressed with the width of their music stands:
For my first concert in the little town of Moers last week I choose to play in the oldest jazz club around. Down in the black cellar we carted down the 160kg Hammond B3 and soon had the Leslie speaker spinning nicely. I don’t believe anyone knew what to expect, certainly not for me to play jazz conga, but the locals strike me thus far as being down to earth and open for anything. I twas a sweet opening night.
Walking down the main drag I could be in any of a thousand small European towns as the shops are in the meantime all the same. Catching some conversations and observing faces gives me a good impression of the local vibe. I believe this is a good place to create some healing sounds this year.
Some hours later I play my second concert, this time in the wonderful church in Repelen close by. The wooden ceiling is again the key and sound within is a warm and rich one. It was a joy to sing out with my sax and sruti box and though I no longer set foot inside a church very often I was impressed by the Bishop’s words concerning the stages of the cross, of of which could have come easily from the mouth of a Lama or a Sufi.
On a different note, I was recently asked by a German Music magazine to answer some questions. Here are the results…
After a long enforced pause in operations I am finally back, readers. I’m happy to announce I’ll be the Improvisor in Residence this year in Moers and look forward to posting the events that will take place in the coming months. I have already a lot planned for this sweet little town.
Right now though I am climbing the mountain of Xenakis and it is one tiny little bar that has my full attention. Towards the very end of the piece “Dmaathen” which we play next week in Athens- it is a little beast on the Soprano that is occupying me day and night. What a difference a bar makes.
Slowly, o so slowly, I am making my way through a mountain of taped concerts from the last few years. One of the highlights of last year’s Plushmusic festival in Cologne was the solo set of Anthony Pateras- one which can now be seen and heard right here:
Here is a film of my dear Professor of Serbian gypsy music, Christo Armani…
One the deeper oceans I dived into during the last months of traveling was the one called Finnegans Wake. The text had until quite recently been something like an unscalable monolith looming on the distant horizon of my life. Finally I managed to get close to it and the tools and ropes I used to start to climb it were simple sounds- the sound of the text when it is recited and and the sounds that seemed to me to best accompany the slippery and jagged surfaces of the page from which the words burst forth violently. Fractal in nature, the deeper I move into a page, the more ocean of text opens up in front of me. Reversing this and sinking into a single sentence, the same happens inversely. This happens on the sound plane on which the dance of the vowels and consonants under the multiplex veils of meaning are shared by the invoker and the listener. Just as in dreaming, we can lose ourselves in a faerie tale free-fall in so many glorious ways.
Well, this is an excerpt form the performances in Cologne shot from my reading desk. I had a few pages ready to go but in the main elected to open the book at random and improvise with it. The fall of Joyce, already revealed on page one of the book:
I used as a chant with my sruti box and some overtones. That is the quality of the word that sprung out of the page, slapped me in the face metaphorically and said: chant me, Hayden, or else…
I have collected many hours of this linguistic sound party and will soon edit it down for release. Certainly this ocean will continue to thrill and delight me for many seasons to come.
On the shores of the lake in Zug, Switzerland, everything seems at peace.
The birds chirp away and a soft mist descends over the mirror surface of the lake.
If the world was falling to pieces beyond the mountains one wouldn’t notice.
The countless mailbox companies abide here undisturbed.
Were there to be war somewhere, I don’t think much would change here.
Like a little bubble hovering precariously above a volcano, the fragile state is held in check by forces unseen.
Playing jazz here fills me with mixed emotions.
The copious back stage catering eases certain pains.
And yet there is something so hard to pinpoint that creeps up my spine and whispers something ominous into my neck.
It’s something about the nature and price of balance in this world- but I couldn’t quite catch it.
I charge on- of late I play any god damn reed, soft or not- until she dies a violent cut-up death in my mouth.
I concern myself with these particular universals only for fleeting moments
It’s easier to stay inside the changes and the rhythm
Then hit the 96 Barolo backstage and fall into a soft hotel bed on the shores of the lake in Zug thinking nothing at all really, just dreaming of changes and rhythm.
And so we laid down the swing program in Cologne with the Lucern Band and it was a great night. Here is a sample track which captures the essence, Ace of my Heart.
Wonderfully documented by the team from Klang Malerei, here is the concert we dedicated to Ligeti from this year’s 8 Bruecken Festival in Cologne. The work blends compositions of Frank’s and mine own…
Here it is, our final concert from the Village. We marched the §@ %$ out of the village and had already lifted the Platea on the nights before. Yes, we trounced some of the trad and rembetika sessions and I’m sorry or that but the villagers were begging us to and when they need it, we give it. On the last night the Agios Lavrentios Brass Band marched into down- the Bari had recently passed on ( long live the Bari- es lebe der tod! ) and so the Bari case was proudly carried behind the second line rhythm section as we made our way into the center around midnight. Lavrenti’s announcements over our overtones said it like it is, Panos and the flute-zurna of his Father soared above our saxes, Greek military marches seared the last remaining skeptics, and the sax of local hero Apostolos finally sung out over the Serbian march. All this and more in this final gig, filmed by the proud mother of Apostolos on that wonderful Sunday night. Thimios from the village is a little guilty for all of this- it was he who politely asked me after 5 years of workshops involving long chords and overtones if I could not inject a bit of rhythm into things.
photo by Iannis Psallidakos
Though many were unsure if I was serious or not when I wrote a Swing Program Rhythm Got Me for the Lucern Big Band with ten new songs I can safely say that I was deadly serious. On Sep 25 we perform the program in Cologne with Lucia Cadotsch on vocals. Here is a simple bootleg and one of my songs from the first gig in Switzerland to give you a taste of what is in store come Cologne’s next new moon. And yep, I meant it.
I thought that loving you would be like flying
High above the world with no more crying
I dreamt so much and even thought it came true
O how I wanted
O how I needed
To be together with a man who delights me
Who takes me to the clouds and feeds me nightly
With all the lovely things a girl like me likes
O how I needed you
Then the clouds came and covered the sky
Then the moon hid her face
Then my dreams all turned to dust
and disappeared my darling without leaving a trace
Now I’m all alone but I’m not crying
You might have clipped my wings but I’m still flying
Each day I’m smiling and I’m looking on high
This little bird ain’t done.
When the dark clouds draw over the sky, when hope seems to be lost and no ways seem to lead out of the darkness, then there are a few things I’ve prescribed over the years: staring into the sun, moon, or stars for long intervals seems to help, as does wine (though that surely goes without saying), getting up close to the crashing waves on the shore and birdsong in the early morning. And when it comes to human sound in times like these I’ve gone for spirituals like these ones, in some strange way pain can be transcended and turned into something else – all that with just a few simple chords and whispers and cries of hope – souls racing towards the light.
The week on the mountain was a strong one this year and apart from our continued tuning voyages which we undertook in the morning sessions we also put together a nice New Orleans- Balkan music- inspired concert which I shall soon post. The Rhythm of Harmony and the Harmony of Rhythm courses met in a wonderful way and the general feeling I have after the week’s teaching is that the work has a long way to go but is slowly taking on the kind of forms which can make it more accessible and a little easier to get into for players that are new to it. I had most of my 9 years of notes with me whilst teaching, and though much of it has been overhauled in the mean while and a lot of it modified, the basic principles are the same.
I was blessed again with a wonderful group of open minds, powerful lungs, big hearts, and flexible lips. And out of all the playing the Agios Lavrentios Brass Band was born. I’m quite sure the band will continue you lift the Platea of the village in the future years and next year’s 10th anniversary will surely be one to write home about. Stay tuned for that.
In the meantime I continue to plow through the complex landscape of Serbian music, picking out tiny jewels which I then transcribe , notate, memorize , and internalize. I’ve been close to great brass bands and singers already and even though my language is still atrociously bad I can make me way through the potentially dangerous Kafana culture and usually come out unscathed- though this is also due to my build, haircut, and drinking capacity I fear. Again and again I discover that in this territory, it is just as hard for “them” as it is for “us” to put the true music down to tape- in fact it is nigh on impossible. A track like the one below would be a very different creature played live. The last bit, when the band simply grooves on the riff and it starts to really lock in, would in a live situation, be stretched out for a long time.
It is rough, wild, tasty, dangerous sometimes, but thrilling if you feel an affinity to their modes and rhythms which I always have, even long before I started to mix up the gene pool of Serbia with Scottish invaders. A lot of it so far is less flashy and showy than other fast forms of Balkan music but it grooves hard and assimilates anything into its language that it can- no matter what the song. Any noses raised out here would be sliced off in an instant. Now I can’t say I would go as far as to stab my best friend in the heart after he stole my wife and insulted my sister but I am certainly getting deeper into the music, coming closer to the heart of this place.
Has been quite a month. A fall from a trail meant I was out for a while from all the physical stuff but had plenty of time to reflect and prepare mentally for the coming months.
Then, out of the balkan blue in the deep south of Serbia, I met “Mr Armani” (see below). He was striding the streets with his accordion slung over his back. He entered our taxi and we went to the same Kafana. After many hours of playing songs with him I had never heard before but somehow remembered, he told me we have the same blood. It seemed that we do, at least at this precious confluence of time rivers. And so, after years of wandering it seems I am a gypsy after all. Based on the music, aint such a bad thing at all.
Touched down in Belgrade for a mere night- hardly enough time to say the word Pieskavica, let alone order one hot of the pan. Early next morn I board the 40 minute flight to Podgorica and the metal bird touches down on of of those landing strips I hold dearly: the ones on which we step off the plane directly onto the tarmac surrounded by mountains and walk all the way to the terminal. Other favorite airports like this I remember are Windhoek and my hometown of New Plymouth, bless her soul.
I’m whisked away from Montenegro to the heart of Albania by a shining spirit in a large jeep. The further south we cut into the land of eagles, the more potholes in the road and the stronger the coffee. Every time I’ve come here I’ve found something liberating in the air and swiftly sounds are forming in ink on the paper in front of me. In the suburbs of Tirana I find a playground and do some bar work- I’ve almost got my human flag going and it is exciting as hell. Any street sign is now a veritable target for me.
Cut- I’m sitting in a restaurant, one which with it’s lighting design could be effortlessly transformed into a casino or brothel within 3 minutes. Behind me a clarinet player and a keyboard player with a massive rack ready to hit the balkan stuff. The host offers long toasts through a microphone with a long slap delay lay lay lay lay…Rakia flows. And flows. A long distinguished table is, after 20 minutes of formal conversation, thrust at 240/kmh by the god of parties into overdrive. Words would hardly do justice to what happened next. For the record, I came away with several 50 euro notes stuffed into my saxophone and into my pockets. In short, we really hit hit it hard and one day later my lower lip tells me I must have been blowing for hours.
Come Saturday I’ll be playing on the TV here for the millions of Albanians here and in the diaspora everywhere else. The whole thing deserves to be posted and so I will put the link up on Saturday for the live stream.
When things fall apart – as above so below?
Already when this holiday weekend began and I was making my way to the concerts, I sensed something wasn’t quite right. Aside from the normal mass-nervousness I’ve come to accept as a sign of our times, it was as if the sky was pregnant with something ominous- like she was ready to burst open with no good. It was hot and sticky and if was more attuned to the heavens I could perhaps have guessed what would come.
Well, before the skies above Germany opened up with wind, hail, and fire I first had to play some jazz. This was a delight and the concert we played can soon be viewed and heard here. The highlight for me of the weekend was a band from Bahia that absolutely blew me away, Here they are, though I must add that the video doesn’t fully do justice to what they deliver.
Without me knowing, as the Brazilians were firing in Holland, all hell was breaking loose from the sky over Germany. And so it was to be that when I finally tried to leave Holland only buses were in use and from Duisburg itself all trains were canceled. Panic was already set in, hundreds were in the lines, the Orwelian announcements were cryptic at best, and I sensed that nothing was going to happen for a very long time.
Something in me on Friday had already seen this coming. At times like this people really seem to break down. It reminds me of just how fragile this whole western bubble is we live in. And I was soon able to experience the mayhem first hand: next to the station was a bike shop where I quickly purchased a second hand bike, strapped my suitcase to the back, hoisted Cosette over my shoulders, and set out on the 60kms to Cologne. I sure as hell didn’t plan on getting stranded here for days.
On the way I witnessed widespread chaos: huge traffic jams and blocked roads. Fallen trees blocking main roads. I was attacked my a swarm of bees and had to backtrack 20kms because of of blocked routes. It turned out to be quite an adventure. 5 hours and a moderate sunburn later I caught site of the Cologne cathedral- a moment which always makes my heart skip a beat and gives my legs an extra boost.
Something about this whole thing didn’t surprise me. Not long ago it was the floods very close in Serbia- now this. I think we have to be quick on our feet in these times we live in now. Days like this reinforce the idea for me that our oil-dependent cultures are also useless when nature reasserts itself. And despite all the damage, a part of me is happy to see her forces take the upper hand when otherwise on my travels all I see is mankind raping her for all she is worth.
I don’t dwell on these kind of thoughts for long and prefer to go back to the music. The festival in Holland was like a tiny paradise filled with beautiful souls and music. Playing with Lula Pena again was like free flying. It is only moments like these that make it bearable to be away from the homeland skies for all these long years.
One of the perhaps stranger habits I’ve picked up from many year on the road has been the personification of hotel rooms- once in while I really bond with a particular room, one which has gifted me with some particularly deep and well needed sleeps, or simply shielded me completely from the viscous world outside. When I leave these rooms, like the one I just did in Nijmegen- I usually thank them in person, wish them all the best and say something along the lines of gotta go, room, but you sure were good to me, take care.
This particular one had all the features I go for: a simple harder bed, cleaning ladies who never knock when the sign is out, strong water pressure, tea cooker, no paintings on the wall, windows that open, and right next to the train station. Add some free espresso downstairs and you have a relatively content kiwi.
I should note that the windows are suicide proofed and can only be opened just enough to poke one’s head through. Through the other window I could then extend my arm with a cup of tea, giving me the sensation of drinking outside.
If the city sports a park in it, running is on the cards. If it is dismal and oppressive and car-ridden, as some cities can be, this kiwi prefers to run up and down the hotel stair case, the more floors the better.
With regards to my diet recommendations below, I find it often asked if it is not more expensive to eat a no-carb diet. Well it isn’t. Here is a delightful list of my day’s culinary no-carb delights – tasty and with enough power to send me to the moon and back ( so it feels). I’ve elected for the kind of language deployed in New Zealand cafes to make my very simple creations seem very classy- actually they are very simple to make and the total cost of all the meals listed came to 17 euros. Total time involved in preparation: 70 minutes ( time which to me feels like a gorgeous sensory meditation)
Smoked Salmon with Fresh Organic Lemon Juice
Avocado with Virgen Extra Olive Oli and Lemon
One wickedly strong Sicilian Espresso
Large Glass of Staatl. Faechingen Mineral Water
Anatolian Meatballs cooked in Coconut Oil and Seasoned with Mallorcan Orange Salt
2 Eggs Moon side Up
Fresh Green Salad with Avocado Oil and Fresh boiled Asparagus
One Freshly squeezed Kale, Ginger, Carrot, Cucumber Juice
Thai Chicken Curry with Seasonal Vegetables
I then elected to finish things off with
25 shots of Sky Vodka a glass of vin natural to kick start the evening and get ready for the jazz…
For a while now I’ve been meaning to write a health post on some issues of importance to me, so here we go…
I’ll begin with this one as it is possibly the most important and the base of physical and mental health. It is a tricky one as there is tons of misinformation out there but I can certainly speak from my own experience.
After struggling with daytime fatigue since a teen and trying out all kinds of options including going vegetarian for several years, about a year ago I made the switch to what is commonly called Paleo Diet and the results were truly transformational. On the way I found out a lot about how my body burns energy and what I was actually doing to myself by constantly and unknowingly loading up with carbohydrates at each and every meal.
Like the other parts of this post, the method is not fiercely dogmatic and should be individually adjusted. In the meantime I have no problems having the odd pizza even but my body has made the switch to burning fat as its primary source of energy (read more about ketogenisis) and no longer sugar ( in its raw forms or as carbohydrates). Yes, I lost weight and gained muscle but the best part was the mental clarity and lack of fatigue- this was truly amazing. This after several doctors in my youth had simply given me iron tablets and told me it didn’t really matter what I eat- well I say it does. Now I can even play Charlie Parker themes without too many wrong notes, imagine that.
I stumbled across the necessary information while researching something very different: brain waves and neurofeedback. I came across Nora Gedgaudes who is an expert in this field but also passionate about nutrition and the paleo diet. I thoroughly recommend all of her writings and podcasts. She takes an evolutionary approach to nutrition and also factors in the brain a lot which I like. Because she also went through all hell before she finally attained clarity through diet, her story is a great and telling one.
Here is another down-to-earth no-nonsense nutritional expert- Antti Heikkila– a doctor with excellent advice and many decades of experience, again centering around reducing or eliminating carbs. Mainly targeted at diabetes sufferers, it can be applied for all of us.
The “mainstream” guidelines for nutrition and “food pyramid” are in my opinion rubbish. In the meantime you have to take your own health into your hands and this means informing yourself, having a good look in the mirror and not trusting a regular doctor of medicine to tell you what is good for you to eat. The links above can get you started if you are interested.
I encourage all of my sax students to work on something related to the body like Taiji, Yoga, or a martial art- or even simple plain ol’ running or swimming. The key however is finding a good teacher and with this you need a a mix of inside information, first hand experience, and gut feeling. A good strategy is to check out the students that have been doing it for a while: what kind of an impression do they make? From there the decision shouldn’t be hard.
I’ve written already here about my passion for barefoot running so there’s no need to give a longer description. In short, I was lucky to grow up in New Zealand mainly barefoot and I think that might have helped when I switched to running in barefoot sandals. The difference is a huge one- one that is best experienced rather than read about. I still think the classic “Born to Run” is a good book for inspiration.
In short, the more I can reduce things to their most simple simple natural state the better. Running barefoot ( or as close to it as possible) is how we were built to run- it is that plain and simple. I engage more of my body and my mind in the run now. There is no drifting away in my head, I can’t afford to as every step has to be absolutely conscious to stay safe. I’m happiest when I’m on a mountain trail under the sun with just a small drink bottle, my sandals, shorts , and a hat. Then I feel I could could go on for days and in the meantime I even know I can.
Now that I have worked on regaining a good natural running technique, it is truly painful to observe most runners out on the street- killing their knees with their pounding heel strikes and yet trying so hard with their 200€ running kits. Wow, it could be so simple guys! Is it a massive conspiracy of simply a sign of the times? More the latter. Though the market for sports shoes is a massive one and the last thing they need is people realising they don’t need sh€t to run properly.
The long distances on the trail and the abstract distance from my music helps me in different ways. On long runs I often come up with solutions for musical problems. I think it is good to move a long way away from something in order to tackle it anew.
Let me finish with some wise words by the great trail runner Anton Krupicka
“As runners, our feet are what keep us connected with the ground and offer important tactile, sensory feedback, which makes the structure and design of the shoe on our foot essential in shaping our experience with the surrounding terrain. By wearing a shoe that eliminates unnecessary gimmicks and gadgetry (and, most importantly, a big, cushioned heel), I am allowing my foot to operate more effectively, efficiently and naturally while freely relaying proprioceptive information back to the rest of my body. ??Minimal footwear enforces a heightened sense of the position of my body in space and its position relative to the technically challenging terrain. This sort of awareness is at the basis of any skilled movement we do as athletes, and the athleticism that running quickly over variable terrain requires is probably the essential difference between a trail/mountain runner and the traditional road/track athlete who operates primarily in a straight-ahead plane of movement.”
My interest in bodywork has been around for a while but I started to get into calisthenics after spending a lot of time at playgrounds- not because I am a pedophile but an absolutely legitimate Father doing his thing. Talking to wonderful mothers is ok for a while but at a certain point I realized the bars and surfaces could be used for training.
Again using the principle of reduction I found out that right here you have everything you need for a full work out: bars for pull ups, parallel bars for dips, and concrete on the ground for stretches and handstands and other cool stuff.
I had also been in a gym a couple of times but I always found them pretty offensive places in many respects: clientele, music, scent, general vibe, price, etc…
The strength I was interested in working on was only that which I could actually use. Building body mass for the sake of it isn’t my thing. I’m into increasing my running power, improving my swimming, and refining my bar fighting with Russians on Saturday nights. Na but seriously, core strength in my obliques from planks for example has greatly increased my central base strength and this has in turn strengthened my playing- this I can even hear on recordings believe it or not.
There is a growing interest in calisthenics. This guy has a couple of great books out and he rightly includes a good stretching routine into the program, something I highly recommend. Al’s piston squat is second to none and he is also a barefoot running man so my kind of guy.
This ancient art has sadly lost its original meaning and force in the modern day manifestations. However if you are lucky enough to find yourself a good teacher then I would take the chance. Simply apply the tips I gave above.
I consider myself lucky to have experienced Erle, my first Taiji teacher in person before he passed away not long ago. He has left behind a massive body of work and his down to earth teaching approach can still be experienced on his many dvds.
It is not an easy world to stay “healthy” in- the challenges thrown up by our modern urban environments are bigger than ever, and at the same time so are the chances. Personally I felt a certain responsibility to take my health into my own hands in regard to the family and friends around me. This way, I can help when needed- if I am basket case with depression, diabetes, and a host of other “modern” afflictions what can I offer? No mucho, amigos.
With musicians there is often a kind of self-destruction understood in the mythos of the suffering artist. I often mention this when I’m teaching tuning and well temperement- it is 2014 now and time to move on. Too many seem to be stuck in the past in the wrong way. We need to carry the wisdom of our ancestors on in intellegent ways. Many of the caretakers of the earth and carriers of wisdom may well have been obliterated by our modern empires but the battle is only lost in my book when the very last have falllen and this is not yet the case. It is finally time to step up a gear and realise more the potential we’ve been given- optimal physical health is only the begining of this. Our true power and potential lies far beyond that.
For the 9th year running I will be teaching for a week in the tiny paradise of Agios Lavrentios in late August. All the infos, dates, and applications are now online here. The title this year is “The G-sting of Pythagoras and the Agios Lavrentios Balkan Brass and New Orleans Band” and that is pretty much exactly what we will be shedding in the week.
I will also teach a masterclass in France from 7 to 11 July- “Ancient Knowledge for the Modern Saxophonist” in the beautiful village of Quincerot ( 47’36’39 N – 4’16’02 E ) which is open to wind players. The information for that week can be found be emailing: email@example.com and the French website is here.
Last Wednesday I gave my first performance of texts from Finnegans Wake. Once I started to dig deeper into this wonderful rabbit hole I realized quickly that this one will occupy my spade and I for some time to come. I’d been in one sense waiting for the right moment in my life to enter fully into the wickedly complex dreamworld of an author I’ve always loved. In this excerpt I improvise on one of the song texts in the book. This text is one that really comes to life when it is read aloud.
Impressions form the Serra de Tramuntana Mallorca Ultra Marathon
We set out at 8am from Valdemossa. The trail cuts high right away. The runners are all seriously equipped and most of them are ripped and obviously ready for some serious trails.
Of the roughly 70km of trail, most of it is sharp ascent or descents. It is a wickedly technical course with a lot of rocks and tricky paths. In between the hard grind we pass through gorgeous villages where the locals are out in force, sometimes offering their own oranges and water.
I should maybe clear up something about the “barefoot” running thing for those who are more from the music side. I’m running in sandals with some grip on the bottom but basically the feeling is that of running in bare feet- there’s only a couple of millimeters between my sole an the ground. For this run I took the Vibram five fingers as they offer a bit of extra traction on the bottom. It simply means you have to watch out where you step- not a bad thing in my book.
I’ve often had comments from other runners on my barefoot sandals but this time I really had a lot. Mostly they were in the range of: ” Joder Hombre! Eres Loco? Tienes Cajones! Jesus Maria, eres serios? ( Fxxk man! Are you crazy? You’ve got balls! , Jesus Maria, are you serious!?)- of which the cojones one was the most common. Once I was in the last 15kms and over the line I received a lot of back slaps and respect for crossing the mountain in them. Yes, there were parts that hurt a bit, especially the rocky descents. Still I felt good for most of the way and one day after, it is my whole body that aches, not just my feet or knees- and that is the crux or barefoot running, it engages more muscles because of the way you touch the ground.
Most of the 1000 strong field were Mallorcan and they were a fine and wild bunch. The one thing they had in common seemed to be a love for the mountains ( I saw not a single discarded drink bottle on the trail) and ripped calf muscles ( from all the mountain training). When runners fell, and fall we did, there were always others to help them up. It really felt like we were all pushing each other on in the best way. Despite the stunning scenery, one single moment of looking up and you can hurt yourself badly. This is good training for being present in the moment.
It took me 12 hours to cross the finish. The pros were over in just under 6 which is a superhuman feat. One day later and I’m blistered and beaten up but still elated. I can feel how this kind of stuff can become addictive.
Pushing the physical and mental limits, being out exposed in this glorious mountain range, forging brief running bonds when one needs the other, scaling the peaks cutting into the blue sky, the locals playing Mallorcan bagpipes to urge us on, the kind physio teams in the monasteries- all of this made the run a truly emotional experience which marked me somehow.
Last week it was the fractal spirals in the incredible cauliflower in Italy that held my fascination. This week it is spiral patterns in the sky and in the mountains that I behold in wonder. And it reminds me, on those few occasions when I ask myself what in the hell are you doing, why I am spending my days and nights brutalizing my legs and cutting through these mountains- it also has to do with spirals. Readers of this page will know well that in the last few years I have gone deeper into tunings and fibonacci forms in the overtone series- well in short, these universal laws which find expression in our perceivable sound world can, if you let them, whisk you away to very distant places making it very difficult to keep your feet on the ground. I intuited that I could easily pass the point of no return and I instinctively choose something which would keep me grounded in some way- something to balance these other forces, blindingly bright in their brilliance and luminosity.
And so here we are now, cutting through the mountains in barefoot running sandals. I would never have imagined myself doing that a few years ago. I think it all relates though and my training philosophy is also spiral-related. If you can run 1km then you can run 2. If you can run 2 then you can run 3, then 5, then 8, then 13 and so on. And now I’, running close to 89. I’m guessing the sky is the limit and I fully subscribe to the idea that over time we humans can outrun any creature on this planet. There are many moments these days when I feel I could run through day and night without a break. It is a liberating feeling but at the the same time an earthy/rootsy one- worlds apart from the information I was getting from the universal sound worlds I had begun to explore and were beckoning me away from this planet.
Next week on Thursday I dive into Finnegans Wake in a solo performance. The book is for me also fractal in its nature- take a small fragment or page and it fully mirrors the whole in structure and form. It invokes the world of dream, the places where our physical reality, the one I am trying to ground myself into, breaks down and morphs into other dimensions. It achieves this through sound and intoning.
I don’t care for those who pour ridicule on those who have experienced other worlds or the reality of dreamtime (call it any one of another hundred names, call it what you want, or riddle with it endlesslessly as Mr Joyce did). After Iboga initiation, Bwitis know that we share this plane with many others of non-physical form and that the points of intersection between the worlds are where the true work take place. We know that sound is one of the most powerful tools here. When others laugh and or poke fun at phenomena that are not measurable by modern science ( about as advanced as a piece of rock when it comes to measuring these other worlds in my view) we simply smile and continue. Apart from the odd phase of solid grounding by running through these grand old spirits in the form of mountains, there is still much work to do. I may be stretched out, aching between rock and cosmos, between physical space and dreamtime- but there is still a smile on my face because I know this is what we were destined to be- tiny organic breathing bridges between the temporal and the eternal. I can’t emphasise the breathing part enough, ’tis the key which fits the lock.
Training now on the island. Plenty of blisters to sport already. Loading up on avocados, jamon serrrano, coffee, wine, fish, chicken and paprika for the race. Found some beautiful smaller trail routes in the north I’ve been working on. These are the kind of gorgeous stone trails that cut through the mountain range. Around 1000 runners of which only 30 are Estranjeros like yours truly. I’ve just translated the last items that are required for the course- my feet and legs are aching as I write- gonna be a blast!
Palermo. Orange golden light cascades down and is reflected off the gorgeous facades and distant cliffs. A lone Goethe Institute harbors our jazz and the locals nod in approval- no need for spoken language. Walking around aimlessly I fall in love with a 300yr old tree spilling over its garden into the street and propped up with other trees acting as crouches. Her roots wind gloriously over the sand, twisting and pulsating with life. Something intangibly spellbinding in the air and it finds its way into the music- if I ever truly drop off the map, look for me here.
0600 I make it up for some running through the empty streets. One week away from the big race. I used to thick of the zone as a place from my favorite Tarkowski film- now it is something I get into after about 5kms into the run. Once I’m in it I can stay there for ages. Getting into it means sweating out some of the wine from the night before and yes, that is part of my training. As is a beer every 20kms and some meat and avocados every 25 or so. More of that later as I think I’ll make a little video diary of the race which cuts through some of the most beautiful mountains I know on northern Mallorca.
When I’m out there my mind is on the rocks below and the mountains around but the best thing is the sounds that flow into my head. I have to watch out to get them scribbled down- seems to do my aging brain good and the melodies that are sweated out during the ultra training have worked out fine thus far in the practice room. Calves are also in good knick as well which seems to strengthen my standing position. Starting to get a bit addicted to the aching legs each night, keeps my mind from wandering.
For the Leipzig-based readers out there I pay a house concert with Pina Bettina Ruecker this Wednesday, from 2000 we welcome listeners into her living room. Simply call 03413191166 and reserve your space…
Playing with Pina is always a delight and a challenge- blending with the crystal sound bowels tests me anew each time and I’m often surprised where the journey takes us. I havn’t been able to quite put my finger on the strange and otherworldly mix between these two instruments but I suspect it has something to do with bamboo, alloys, crystal, and wood. Come along and hear for yourself…
Once upon a time a red headed Kiwi with long hair, acne, squinting eyes, and a bright paisley shirt walked into a pub in the countryside in England and made the mistake of ordering a cup of tea. The Bartender politely told him to leave the pub, turn right, walk straight ahead for 2 miles, and then to kindly F¢¶? himself.
Now it could have been my dreadlocks and didjeridu, all duly dangling, that exacerbated the situation brought on by my innocent order however the point lies elsewhere. I returned later in the evening, ordered some pints, and was as least tolerated for the moment. Back in those days, I was not particularly fond of bar fights, and so I simply sat back and watched the Bosch-like villagers- a passive observer, nothing more. That was until the local dart competition was initiated. Bouyed by the warm local ale and not concerned by the absence of my contact lenses or my lack of dart skills, I joined the fray. Several pints and hurled darts later, I had won by utter fluke not only the dart competition and the 50 pound prize, but also the respect of the bartender and a valuable lesson from a highly improbably event. My winning dart had (after closer inspection for the dartboard itself and the entire pub was blurry at best without my contacts) had split my previous dart plum down the middle.
My lesson (to strike me epiphany-like many years later): When you throw a dart and hit the bulls eye, you’ve found the centre. But if you throw another dart right after and split the first dart in the middle, it’s as if you have pierced the center of the centre. This is the memory I now bear from that nondescript little pub in England and in the faerie tale world inside my head, it now relates directly to the tuning of my instrument.
Especially in musical situations where I have ample time to find the center of the tone – and here it is important for me to write that intonation and timbre are magically and inextricably intwined- more and more I am sensing that the true center of the tone is one which can be constantly pierced through the middle just as my dart once did its precursor. Like an ongoing refinement of the true center effected with minute adjustments in intonation, tone coloring, volume, and the marriage with the other sound source.
Musicologists may laugh and call me a hopeless esoteric, I in turn may smile back at them because it is for me a perfectly measurable sensation. They may cry out: subjective experience! I will smile and comment that subjectivity and objectivity start to blur when matter and consciousness are considered as one (and in my book they absolutely, empirically are). We might as well be at opposite ends of the universe with our respective views we hold onto (with the one difference that I hold onto my beliefs about as tightly as I hold on with my embouchure to my mouthpiece- just enough to get the job done). We barely share the same simple tools of human language to feebly attempt to understand the other- and yet I might as well order a pint of ale in a Kyoto temple and expect it on tap, up front, no questions asked, than have them understand me.
There is no perfectly in tune as there is no perfect bull’s eye; you can always cut deeper into the center of the tone you are merging with.
Finding appropriate practice spaces at airports is not always easy but my recommendation is to go for the handicapped toilets if available. They are usually large enough to perform the Taiji form and do a good round of stretches and push ups without attracting unwanted attention. Sometimes, if there is a children’s play area I try and track down a bar for some pull ups and drop some handstands- children sometimes smile and adults often seem a bit confused. Then I always hunt down the closest Mcdonalds for a nutritional Big Mac and the delicious taste of unbridled capitalism (not). In the flights themselves I go for left sided window seats ( when I want to sleep- about 50% of my flights), isle seats when I want to work or contemplate the state of this planet, and seats in the middle when I want to test my compassion for mankind. After a bit of practice I’m able to pull a reverse handstand in most plane lavatories and I’ve found the closed seat can be used for the yoga asana “frog”. Sometimes I like to take my neck and mouthpiece in and circular breath for a little- the buzzing feeling in my lower lip calm soothes my soul. Most of the time I prefer to listen to the overtones of the plane engines than any music. It’s rough out there on the road, you might as well make the best of it.
Training for my first Ultra Marathon has left me without much to say or write- my mind is simply in the middle, purring in neutral. It wasn’t so much the physical challenge that drew me but the mental one and the fact that it cuts through a beautiful mountain range in Spain. Running 70 km on asphalt would not only bore me, it would also hurt me a little, barefeoot sandles or not. Bringing the whole thing back to music, I wanted to say that I felt the only way I could push my saxophone playing further is by sharpening the mental side of my musical approach- long distance barefoot running has helped me here. The barefoot part turns the run into a much more total mind/body thing as you are accutely aware of each step and not simply pounding away on pavement. It’s the essence of being in the moment- as if you’re not, you’ll hurt yourself. I know now how to get my mind into the zone where I can push on through on kinds of obstacles. I also know that once the running form is right, breathing relaxed, body and mind moving in sync, I can do things I never dreamed possible. The kind of things blocking my progress on a jazz tour like the one I’m now can be easily overcome with some of these skills. Most of them are surprising simple but they need a couple of pain initations and physical challenges to attain. Once they’re there then you can employ them at will- for example on your 13th chorus over Cherokee.
With a low passenger count, departure from a virtually empty airport, old-school large leather seats, low-volume announcements and nonexistent boarding music, and 3 euro smoked trout and horse radish from the airport market, my mood was already buoyant on boarding another Air Serbia flight. One last on board phone call is made by a Grandmother, bidding farewell to “Dusa Moya” – my soul. There is something about that I love.
In the meantime, having observed what is happening around the world on a large scale, I know well that you cannot take such tiny islands of tranquility for granted and you should cherish them all while they last. I also feel increasingly lucky to have grown up in peace and to be able to make music my life.
I allow the large seat to ease back, watch some of the flickering stars and meditate on two things that make me happy- overtones from the jet engines and distant suns sharing their past with my present.