Warming Up

Warming Up

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Return With Mingus Thursday

Hey, look who’s actually writing a blog post! Been a while, I know. No excuses. So, did you know that today is Mingus Thursday? Well, it is.

A bunch of years ago when I first started studying with Dennis Sandole I happened to mention to the Maestro that I was a big fan of blues music, dating back to 7th and 8th grade when I first started buying music (it was tapes back then!). Anyway, as I had mention in a previous post, Week Four of my Sandole lesson cycle involved taking the chords to the first eight bars of a standard and creating my own melody on those chord changes (substituting some of the Maestro’s substitute chords was also encouraged). After I had mention to whole affinity to the blues, Mr. Sandole suggested that I use tunes by Charles Mingus for my standard of choice. “There is a lot of blues feeling in Mingus’ music. A lot of Duke Ellington as well. Pick songs by Charles Mingus.” So I did. For many Week Four assignments.

I had already been a fan of Mingus’ records. There is raw emotional power in Mingus’ music. Joy, sadness, anger, loss, frustration, love, lust, discovery, confusion. Sometimes all in the space of one song. The music can be sophisticated and sloppy or dirty at the same time. There is an absolute connection to the history of jazz and a simultaneous connection to all things current as well as to the future. Not a lot of figures in the music can pull this off. And Mingus was kinda nuts. Just read his “autobiography” Beneath the Underdog. Fact or fiction, or a weird combination of both, it’s just a really fun read. What a character Mingus was. Don’t believe me? Check out this article Mingus wrote that details a method on how one can train their cat to use the toilet. Seems pretty straightforward. Maybe I should try this with my cat.

So, there are many eras of Mingus to check out. I love ‘em all. Mingus was fruitful and creative always. And his bands had some of the best musicians. His longtime drummer, Dannie Richmond is, I think, one of the most underrated drummers ever. Perfect for Sir Charles. Which brings me to this gem of ephemeral listening goodness: NPR’s First Listen is streaming some of a new Mosaic Boxset entitled The Jazz Workshop Concerts, 1964-65. Of course it’s awesome. And the band is an interesting one: Jaki Byard on piano (playing the whole history of the instrument – as always!), Richmond on drums, and Mingus making up the rhythm section. The frontline is from Detroit: Charles McPherson on alto (sounding Bird-like but with more avant-isms than he displays on his own records), and the little-recorded but very capable trumpeter Lonnie Hillyer. Mingus played with Mingus for years but is only featured on a couple of records. Hearing him live like this is a real treat – at least for me it is.


So definitely check out this First Listen while it’s still streaming for free. This one is special. All Mosaic sets are worth the bread; I’m sure that this one will be as well.

Happy Mingus Thursday!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

House Concert

I want to play a duet with this house! When it rains this house makes music.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Gigs This Weekend

I have two fun gigs this weekend. The music will be drastically different, but should be enjoyable.

Up first is my Friday night gig in Glenside, PA. It’s a fundraiser for Glenside Youth Athletic Club (GYAC). The event is billed as Comedy Night: three NYC comics and a warm-up band called the Weekend Squires. I am the “special guest” with the Weekend Squires. The schtick with this gig is that the band picks a pop artist/band to cover and then they do instrumental versions of the tunes. I joined the Weekend Squires for last year’s GYAC Comedy Night and we played all Black Crowes tunes (a bit rough cuz the Crowes singer basically sings the same thing on almost every tune – blues scale notes). This year the band that we are covering is The Clash. I’m playing on about 70% of the tunes – playing the original horn lines as well as lead and back up vocal lines. Sometimes I’m playing all these parts at once. How is that possible, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you; thanks for asking. I have a new toy which lets me play multiple notes at once.

For my birthday (March 14th in case you want to make a reminder for next year!), my wife and mom bought me a Boss PS-6 Harmonist pedal. This thing has been so much fun! Using Boss’ words, here’s what it does:
“Meet the new BOSS harmonist, with four intelligent pitch-shift effects and three-voice harmony in one convenient unit. Among the effect modes are Harmony, Pitch Shifter, and Detune, plus the all-new Super Bend for authentic pedal-bending effects and wild three- and four-octave pitch sweeps. You can even control pitch with an optional expression pedal. The harmony function is fast and simple to use, and supports a variety of interval patterns. It’s easy to create rich, three-voice harmony: choose a major or minor key, and set SHIFT to 3-VOICE—that’s it! The PS-6 Harmonist is an unbeatable combination of superior sound quality, ease of use, and powerful pitch effects, all under one hood.”

I’ve been fooling around with this pedal for the last month and because of the nature of this Weekend Squires gig, I think it’s a perfect time to debut the Harmonist. Some tunes I’ll use the three-part harmony, some tunes I’ll add to my pitch an octave above and an octave below, and some tunes I’ll use the Detune function which is basically a chorus effect. To further treat my sound, for some tunes I’m also going to play through a Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal – the idea is to make the trumpet sound less like a trumpet. I’ll probably mainly use the distortion on my solos.

So all in all, I’m looking forward to this gig. Though I won’t be getting paid (it’s a fundraiser and I’m donating my time), it will be fun to test out this new gear. Plus, I’ve grown a new appreciation for The Clash. Their drummer, especially, was pretty darn good. And transcribing some of their tunes has confirmed in my mind that I need to start a ska band in the near future. More on that later….

So, the next gig is Saturday’s big concert at Montgomery County Community College. Courtesy of the Ars Nova Workshop website, here’s the deal:

On April 28 at Montgomery County Community College, Bobby Zankel’s big band the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound will premiere a new piece written for the ensemble by legendary pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams. Recently named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and a member of Downbeat Magazine’s Hall of Fame, Abrams is a co-founder of the hugely influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and a composer whose work and influence spans the diverse history of classic, modern and avant-garde jazz. At 81, he continues to wield an enormous influence through his recordings and teachings, not least through some of modern jazz’s most important musicians.

Ars Nova Workshop has also hosted a four part blog about this concert by writer Shaun Brady – you can see the posts at http://arsnovaworkshop.org/

I wrote about this concert a few weeks back – check out the videos. There is a new video with pianist Vijay Iyer:

and also an interview with Muhal himself:

My favorite Muhal quote from this video is a real gem: “I don’t really advise people, but I would say be honest and true about music and practice and study. Forever.” Love it!

The Warriors and Muhal have been rehearsing for a couple of months and the music is ready. It’s one very long epic composition entitled “Soundpath.” In short, it’s badass! Muhal is a true master. And he has been such a joy to work with. He stands in front of us, a real maestro, but very humble and very accessible. He laughs, cracks jokes, and dances along with music – he’s 81 but with his energy and enthusiasm, you would think that he’s half that age. And he’s really encouraging us, pushing us to really get into the sound, to really explore. The whole process has been a blast and I’m excited for the culmination – our concert at MCCC.

Oh, I almost forgot - a special bonus for the Warriors for this concert is that we will also be welcoming into the band two master improvisers: the great trumpet (and a favorite of mine) Herb Robertson and the master trombone player Steve Swell. It’s been great hearing these guys with the band. And it’s been a real treat sitting next to, and getting to know Herb. This show is gonna be awesome!

A new development
: since this concert location is kinda out-there for some folks, Ars Nova Workshop has organized a bus trip to and from the Clef Club in center city Philadelphia to make things easier for you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Not Music Related: Broad Street Run and Fighting Cancer

Unlike most of what I write on this blog, this post has nothing directly to do with music. Like last year, I am participating in the Broad Street Run as a team member of Jimbo’s Squad (here is what I wrote about last year’s experience). This year though I am also fundraising for Jimbo’s Squad which is a proud supporter of Fox Chase Cancer Center, the amazing hospital and research center that treated my wife’s Leukemia.

Here is the message that I sent to friends and family asking them for support. Thanks so much if you read this and feel an inclination to give. Two things I can promise you: Jimbo’s Squad is a great organization that really makes a difference in people’s lives; and, as long as I am breathing and able to move forward, I will run hard and I will run for Sara, our sons, and everyone that has supported this cause.

Dear Friends and Family,

My apologies for the impersonal email, but I'm writing today to ask for your support. On Sunday, May 6thBroad Street Run and I'll be running as a part of Jimbo's Squad (check out their mission and story here - note: the site seems to open best with Internet Explorer or Safari). I ran with them last year – a team of over 130 runners - and it was a great experience so I'm doing it again this year; but this year I want to do more than just run the ten miler, I want to support their cause by helping to raise money. 100 donors at $5/each. That's my goal. I'll be running the

This May marks two years of remission from Leukemia for my wife Sara. Like last year, I'm running this race for her. And for our three sons. During Sara's six month battle with cancer she received excellent care at Fox Chase Cancer Center (FCCC). Jimbo's Squad fundraises for FCCC. When I slept in the hospital next to Sara's bed, I slept in a recliner chair provided in part by the funds donated by Jimbo's Squad. Many of the blankets we used were also provided by Jimbo's Squad. At the end of Sara's hellish treatments, Jimbo's Squad selected our family to send on an all-expenses-paid week vacation at Sea Isle City, NJ. Knowing that there was a light at the end of her tunnel kept Sara going through those last, very crappy weeks in the hospital. In short, Jimbo's Squad has made a big impact on our lives – and the lives of so many others at FCCC. And it's time to give back.

My goal is to have 100 people donate $5 in my name on Jimbo's Squad's website. The donation page is pretty easy to use; should only take a few minutes of your time. Just make sure to select my name in the drop-down box for runners. 100 donors at $5/each. 50 cents a mile. Please help me in supporting a great organization.

Jimbo’s Squad

Donation Page

Hope you all are well and thanks so much!

Bart Miltenberger

Here I am in last year's race - see me there, on the left? 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Upcoming Gigs

Just a quick post about a couple of gigs this week.

On Thursday, April 19th I’ll be playing with Matt Davis’ Aerial Photograph at Time. Start time is 8:30pm. Aerial Photograph has been around for seven or eight years or so, I believe. The genesis of the group came out of Matt’s undergrad experience of writing for a guitar trio plus a string quartet. The band soon added a saxophone and then a five piece wind section  The music is all Matt’s. Kind of a chamber jazz vibe. Beautiful, quiet, moody, elegant, sometimes simple, sometimes complex music. It’s a really special ensemble.

And on Friday, April 20th at World Café Live (downstairs) – I’ll be playing with Philly Bloco, a 22-piece Brazilian Carnival band. This band is a blast to play with. Crazy high energy party band. All covers – about half Brazilian tunes and half a mix of New Orleans tunes (Dirty Dozen, Dr. John, Meters, etc.) and American pop/R&B tunes (some Stevie Wonder and some Otis Redding) that get a samba treatment.  If you like to dance this would be a good show to come to!

Hope to see some of you at these shows!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tiny Desk Rudresh

Have you seen/heard any of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts? On a fairly regular basis NPR All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen brings in musical guests to perform in the NPR office – like, actually at Boilen’s office desk. I have never watched one of these Tiny Desk Concerts that I didn’t enjoy, although some I enjoy more than others. Recently I watched Tiny Desk Concert with alto sax master Rudresh Mahanthappa and I was pretty blown away, so I figured that I would share.

Back in May 2010 and again in March 2011, the big band I play with, Bobby Zankel and the Wonderful Sound, played a couple of concerts with Rudresh – the first one just outside of Philadelphia, and the second at the Iridium in NYC. 9You can watch the first concert here). We played a suite of music that Rudresh wrote and it was a ton of fun. Rudresh’s new album is called “Samdhi and it is awesome. This Tiny Desk Concert features the same bass player: Rich Brown, but instead of David Gilmore on guitar, this Concert features frequent Rudresh collaborator Rez Abassi on guitar. And the drummer for this Concert is the great Rudy Royston, a favorite of mine (and a favorite of many others considering how many people he’s been playing with since he moved to NYC from Denver). Needless to say, this band is pretty sick. And the intimate (it’s a freakin’ office!) environment makes for an interesting and personal visual performance.

Hope you enjoy:


And if you like this, maybe also check out a somewhat recent Tiny Desk Concert with legendary guitarist Bill Frisell playing John Lennon tunes solo. That one was great too!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Practice Room Humor

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I’m hoping to remedy that problem soon. In the meantime, here’s something short….

So I practice in University of Pennsylvania practice rooms a lot and many times there are issues with getting the room I have specifically reserved in advance for my practice sessions. Unrelated, I also really like those Dos Equis commercials with “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” Now, put those two things together:

And just because you asked so nicely, here’s a site that has compiled all of those “Most Interesting Man in the World” quotes. Enjoy….and quite stealing my practice room!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Interviews: Jason Moran and Bobby Zankel on Muhal Richard Abrams

Here's a cool interview with pianist/composer Jason Moran talking about legendary pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams. The part about Mr. Moran’s composition lessons with Mr. Abrams sure reminded me of “Week Four” from my lessons with Dennis Sandole (I'll have to post some of that stuff soon). Very interesting.

The Philly ensemble with whom I have the pleasure to play, Bobby Zankel and the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound have begun rehearsing with Mr. Abrams. We will be performing some brand new music of Mr. Abrams' in concert at Montgomery County Community College on April 28, 2012.

Here is the Jason Moran video:

And here is a Bobby Zankel interview in which he discusses his personal history, including this upcoming concert with Muhal Richard Abrams:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Video: Stevie Wonder

Wow! Check out this Stevie Wonder set from a German TV show back in 1974. Interesting things about this video recording: Stevie plays all of these tunes in almost a suite-like fashion (maybe due to the time constraints of the show?); this performance was taped not long after Stevie had been in a bad car accident (no, he wasn't driving!!) and had been left in a coma for four days; check out this crazy version of "Contusion" - recorded a year and a half before the release of "Songs in the Key of Life." All in all, this set is kinda rough around the edges. But this rawness makes it so, so real and alive. And the band is sick!

Stevie Wonder = Force of Nature

Friday, January 13, 2012

Artist Spotlight: The Genius of Lenny Breau

Ever since I was a kid I’ve always been a fan of the guitar and of guitar players. Even though I am a trumpet player, maybe secretly, or now, not so secretly, I’ve always wished that I could play guitar (I’ve tried to play it a few times but I give up quickly as my fingers start to hurt). If you think about it, the guitar might be the most versatile of instruments. In the right hands guitar can be the vehicle for pretty much any kind of music – classical, rock, jazz, flamenco, blues, avant-garde improvised music, country, American folk music, folk music from pretty any culture around the world. And guitars are portable and pretty cheap. Maybe because of this, guitarists of all levels of mediocre are ubiquitous. But out of this sea of dime-a-dozeness, rises some really great players. Every town has them, smoking rock players, or burning jazz players. But every once in a while there is a guitarist who really transcends the instrument, transcends styles and genres. These guitarists are freaks. And I mean that in a good way, the best way. Lenny Breau was a freak.

I was first introduced to Lenny Breau’s playing about eight or nine years ago. My guitar-playing buddy Richard Somerville said “Hey man, you really should check out this cat, Lenny Breau. You would really dig him.” Richard loaned me “The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau. I was blown away, to say the least. This guy was playing everything, literally everything there was to play on the guitar. Jazz, swing, country, Indian-inspired raga, flamenco, classical playing that would make Segovia smile. And the music sounded so good, not forced considering all of the styles that he played. It was smooth and personal and intimate music. And when it wanted to, it swung its ass off. I was hooked. I love finding new guitar players to check out. Lenny was my new guy. His music was hard to find though. I was on a journey.

I spent the next few years occasionally looking for Breau records. Nowhere to be found in the used record shops. I finally got a hold of the 1968 album Guitar Sounds of Lenny Breau the first Breau major label record (RCA), “The Velvet Touch” from 1969 being the follow-up (on a side note: guitar legend Chet Atkins, an early influence on Breau, is the one who brought Lenny to RCA and supervised the making of these two albums. Chet became Lenny’s lifelong friend, mentor, and champion). “Guitar Sounds” had some great covers on it: Ray Charles, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elizabeth Cotton (“Freight Train” – yes! Watch this!), Hank Williams, but only one original “Taranta.” “Velvet Touch” allows for more originals, and they are all good and. From these two records it was so clear to me that Lenny Breau was an artist, a master musician who could interpret other composer’s material as well as compose his own. But after these two records there was nothing. Nothing really for more than ten years, and even then those late Breau recordings, though they show some absolute brilliance, they can be uneven and thus never wholly live up to his promise. Why? What happened?

The story of Lenny Breau is another one of those tragic artist stories – greatness silenced by the perils of addiction. In 2006, a new biography about Lenny Breau was published: One Long Tune: The Life and Music of Lenny Breau by Ron Forbes-Roberts (Univ. N. Texas Press). I took this book out of my library and tore through it. Lenny was a fascinating guy, troubled, talented, and a total mess. Reading between the lines, the guy was messed up, emotionally stunted by a showbiz childhood – his parents were country music performers (from Maine [!] and then Canada) and their son Lenny was a child prodigy. Breau’s story reminds me, in a way, of Bix Beiderbecke’s: a super-talented artist pushing himself to achieve virtuosity just to show his parents (in Breau’s case it was his father) that he had made something of himself, had achieved greatness with his music, only to be completely crushed by the parents not acknowledging those achievements and talents. Bix drank to push those feelings away. Lenny drank and did every drug he could get his hands on. Lenny was a good-looking guy when he was young; he was, by all accounts, a really nice guy who was obsessed with guitar and music.
 But maybe due to the nomadic nature of his childhood, Lenny never really grew up. He never learned the life skills to be able to function as an independent adult. His whole life was wrapped up in the guitar and in making music. His looks and his abilities should have made him a star. But his career never really took off. Instead, his career was a series of hopes and crashes. Whenever it seemed like things were going to take a turn for the better, like things were really going to happen this time, Lenny would screw it up, showing up high or drunk, or not showing up at all. So many people took chances (and spent money) on Lenny – he was basically a sweetheart of a guy and he could play guitar like no one who ever lived so everyone wanted success for him – but Lenny paid them back by failing. He should have been a household name. Instead, he’s a guy whose albums are really hard to find, and someone who is primarily remembered only by guitar players who are blown away by his finger-style and harmonics playing.

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a used copy of The Hallmark Sessions – a series of recordings, only first released in 2003, that Breau made in Canada with two friends – Rick Danko and Levon Helm (remember them from a little band called The Band! – did you know that those two could swing like that? I didn’t). Lenny Breau was only 20 (!!!) when he made these recordings back in 1961. Good Gravy! That’s just too much guitar for a kid that age to be playing. The crazy thing is, you can hear everything that he was to become. Sure there are moments of youthful over-playing, but there are also moments of shocking tenderness and maturity of phrase and touch. What a joy to hear these recordings. At a tender age, Lenny Breau was already an original and a true virtuoso. You can hear where he came from and where he was going. You can hear the love of jazz, the country music that is a part of his DNA, the interest in flamenco and classical forms, and you can hear how he was really stretching into the artist that he would become and maybe the true-to-himself artist he should have been – he might have been the greatest guitar player ever.

Lenny Breau died face down in a Los Angeles apartment building swimming pool. He was only 43. Signs point to his deranged wife as being his murderer but the case was never solved. If you are unfamiliar with the Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau, do yourself a favor and check out his music – it really is transcendent. And if you enjoy interesting biographies, specifically musician biographies, “One Long Tune” is an excellent read.

Check this out – YouTube scores again! Watching this film (made by Lenny’s daughter – an effort to make some sense of her father’s tragic life) again left me feeling truly sad but also grateful, inspired, and touched. Lenny really made an impact. He was a genius. And his music absolutely endures.

Part One: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLD-BVVYDV4

Part Two: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rV98gcW7X1I

Part Three: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya0Ax5-1VSI

Part Four: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8sT6rDPx1c

Part Five: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDyus44m1F4

Part Six: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLqBn7RGz3c

Part Seven: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYa5TlFJgTY

There’s more YouTube Lenny Breau out there. Check it out!