A Peek into the Making Of “A 400 Year Musical Journey”

Everyone loves a good story, right?

This all started back in the summer of 2008. That was when I began to hear about the “Hudson Champlain Quadracentennial Celebration” (from now on called the “Quad”) – the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s historic voyage up the river that bears his name.

It was around this time that Betsy McKean, a very charming and wonderful person who works in the City of Newburgh records office contacted me about how NY State was promoting this event. There were going to be available several “Mini-Grants” for folks wanting to do an event connected with the Quad. Whether it’s a historical event, or an art show or almost anything – money was going to be available.

She gently (and quite correctly, as we shall see) insisted that I apply. I then had to come up with an “event” related to the Quad, and one that could be funded. (A concert! Of course!) It was then I got the idea for a sort of “400 Year Musical Journey” (although it wasn’t called yet). But Betsy and I discussed the possibilities, and she even helped me research a few things on the net. It was conceived as a way to treat NAIL as a a semi-classical ensemble, which has been one of my intentions from the start. (NAIL is registered as an Ensemble with Chamber Music America.): NAIL as a true 21st century group, doing festivals, clubs and concert halls.

As someone who grew up around the Hudson River, it was always a presence in my life. I live within site of it now; all I have to do is walk 20 feet to the corner and look down the hill. I had even already written a tune, called “(At The) Water’s Edge”, which is the feeling of joy I get from doing outdoor concerts near the river. Yay.

So the paperwork was submitted, the idea finalized and filed away, nearly forgotten. And then, the little miracle: Application Accepted! I guess this means I had work to do.

More thinking & researching… I wanted to do an outdoor concert at one of the oldest intersections in Newburgh, where the two first main streets crossed – Liberty & Broadway.

View Map

There are 2 empty lots on 2 of the 4 corners. But the ownership of these lots was in question, so I turned my attention elsewhere.

Meanwhile, I got an email from one of our many Art “organizers”. There are a lot of artist trying to make a dent in the apathy of this town, and one of those methods is “4 Citys/4 Saturdays”. The 4 citys are Poughkeepsie, Beacon, Kingston & Newburgh. In Newburgh it’s known as the “River Artwalk” (Newburgh has no discernable center of town – it was bulldozed in the 70’s.). Artist/Photographer Tom Knieser is one, and it was from him that I first heard of “River Day” (June 6th 09) and and open call to artists to come down and set up by the river. I contacted him, and he put in touch with – that’s right – Betsy McKean. A price was agreed upon, and NAIL would perform for around 2 hours that day. It was a great show!

Then as you well know, Life happens. Next thing I knew I was knee deep in “Vishnufest” with the Mahavishnu Project. So it wasn’t until the end of July that I began to work in earnest on the “400 Year Journey”. But all things are interconnected…

Having known violin luminary Zach Brock for about a year, through the MahaVishnu Project, I had been trying to figure out a way to get him onto a NAIL gig. Well, here I had the perfect situation. Violin would add tremendous sonic character and authenticity to what I was trying to accomplish. (Besides, we’re funded.) So Zach was hired. I next turned to my old friend Erik Lawrence, but scheduling conflicts made that impossible. So I contacted another member of the MP, someone who among his many, many credits had actually toured with McLaughlin- reed and woodwind master Premik Russel Tubbs.

With these two cats in addition to Nadav Zelniker and new bassist Dan Asher, I now had a stellar band. I then made final music choices, starting with music of Thomas Ravenscroft, a British composer from 1609. I worked the format out – it was to be 2 sets; the 1st set would go in 100 year intervals: 1609, 1709, 1809, 1909. After intermission, we would pick up the pace, as music evolved faster, and jump to 20 year intervals: 1929, 1949, 1969, 1989. We would end with 2 of my original pieces, representing 2009.

Now I had the group, and the program concept. I needed a location. And one of my favorite spots in Newburgh is the Newburgh Free Library. It’s a massively wonderful place, and I’m very good friends with a lot of the librarians, especially the wonderful Chuck Thomas (on twitter as @infocowboy – stop by and say hello.) I keep trying to get them to put a cot in the basement for me, so I can live there. BUT ANYWAY…

Because we are funded, the kind folks at the NFL were all too happy to allow us to perform at their location. The outside spot – in front of the Library – forms a natural Amphitheater and is a great place to play. And – if it rains, we’ll use their indoor presentation room. All bases covered.

Then the music began to really fall into place: Bach in 1709, Duke Ellington for 1929, The Beatles for 1969. 1809 was the year Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto was completed and premiered; this was one of the 1st pieces I fell in love with and learned at the piano so it was a shoe in. 1909 was chosen as “The Birth of the Blues”; 1949 finds us in Bebop territory, with a glance at early country music a la Hank Williams. I spent 2 weeks arranging the material and writing scores and parts, which I haven’t even quite finished as of this writing. I wanted to represent 1989 with Hip Hop, and one of my former students is a rapper and stepped up to the challenge.

But wait – here’ where it gets really interesting….

I got an email about 2 1/2 weeks ago (more? Less? Hazy) from Clayton Buchanan, one of the Newburgh Artists mentioned earlier. Apparently a certain painting of his won an award at a Kent, CT. art show. The reason I got the email was because the painting was of….me. ME? How could this happen? Well, remember “River Day”? Clayton was there, taking photos. He was moved enough to create this painting, of yours truly:

Clayton Buchanan's Painting "Street Noise"
Clayton Buchanan’s Painting “Street Noise”

Then another extraordinary thing happened (that’s 2, if you’re keeping score at home): A friend, fan and supporter named Mark Delano (@mark_delano on twitter) bought the painting with the intention of semi-permanently lending it to the Newburgh Library. Naturally it was decided that the painting would be “unveiled” and presented to the Library during our show’s intermission. Mark’s also been a tremendous help with the press, writing press releases and contacting local print and news media. I can’t thank him enough.

So now we’re a little more than a week away from the show. The last piece fell into place with a Hip Hop piece about the history of Hip Hop written with rapper Tell-a-Vizion. I still have a few charts to finish and my own press to do (i.e. this post). I’m still working on bits of the sound system (we need monitor wedges, for example), but it’s just about all come together. All that remains is the show itself! And yes – we’re working on streaming it on the web at our NAIL ustream page. I just have to get my hands on a camera…!

To learn more about this event, check out our news page at All About Jazz, or read one of Mark Delano’s Press Releases.

So – that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. I’m enjoying the ride. It’s even possible that there will be money left over for me. I think that was part of the idea…

Love ya’s – take care of yourselves. Perhaps we’ll see you at the show. It’s not one to be missed IMHO.

The Sunlit Path: VISHNUFEST 2009

“A long, long tine ago…I can still remember how that music used to make me smile….”

It’s been a long way around. But if, as the physicists say, the Universe is curved, then it figures you’d end up back where you started. So why am I still somewhat surprised? If you’d told me someday people would want to hear this music again I might have laughed, and given a sad little smile…

First, a little background: I first got the “Birds Of Fire” disc back when I was 12 (13?) years old. At the time I was deep into ELP – particularly “Trilogy”, and was just discovering bands like “Yes” & “King Crimson”. (Alternately, another friend I used to hang with would play me Charlie Parker records ALL DAY.)
Anyway, when I tried to listen to “Birds”, I really just didn’t get it. I could tell it was something special, interesting, but…. just “out of reach” of my developing ears..
As time was passing, I was being introduced to more and more great music: the Classic Genesis Lineup; “Tales From Topographic Oceans” and “Relayer”; Patrick Moraz “Story Of i”; also “Bill Evans at the Village Vangaurd”, Herbie Hancock “Headhunters” (and way too many more to mention). It was an exciting time. I was also playing with my High School Big Band, and was writing and arranging for them. I was in it up to my ears, and…loving it.
But I noticed a disparity (at least in my mind) between the Rock & the Jazz worlds.They kind of didn’t “talk” to each other. (What a shame, I thought….)
There were many “moments” – you know what I mean, those points where you experience music in a new way, or hear something startling that changes you’re whole perception..
One of those moments that sticks out in my mind as being relevant is when I went to see “Lasarium” at the Hayden Planetarium in NYC (now the Rose Center). Amongst the Pink Floyd and other prog and experimental tracks was a weird little piece that featured, without a doubt, the coolest synth solo I’d ever heard. The track was called “I Remember Me”, and the synthesizer was played by non other than Jan Hammer. Here. have a listen:
I Remember Me

I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point I pulled out “Birds of Fire” and listened, with new ears, to the most astonishing music I had discovered yet. Around the same time I became aware of their other records – “Inner Mounting Flame”, “Between Nothingness and Eternity”, “Visions Of The Emerald Beyond”. Then I got my hands on the Mclaughlin Book, which has the first 4 CD’s in score form – every part written out! My musician friends and I dug into this stuff will military-like discipline. We each learned all the parts – not just our parts, but all the parts. We would mix & match. Play them slow, fast, in different registers, etc. We “workshopped” this stuff to death! I made it my personal mission to get inside this music and be able to play it well – not just to be comfortable with the odd time signatures, but to “feel” them, to internalize them. I learned and memorized 90% of the material. In addition, the music had very strong spiritual connotations, and I was very drawn to it on a lot of levels. I began to see the odd time signatures as “mantras”….

Over the next few years the house of cards slowly came down, and the heyday of Jazz Fusion and Prog Rock came to an end. To quote George Duke from the Billy Cobham/George Duke Live record, “Disco’s taking over the universe”. Disco and Punk Rock. (The latter I learned to appreciate, thanks to my beautiful wife.)

I continued to play this music, mostly with my group “A. Animal”, but interest was waning. We played a lot of original stuff too, mostly in the progressive vein. It became apparent that people were “just not that into it”. (I’ve only recently realized a satisfactory blend of prog rock and jazz elements with NAIL, but that’s another story).

In 2000, I finally gave up the ghost, and looked towards playing new music – moving forward into uncharted territories. One of the first folks I met along the way was drummer Dean Sharp. We began to work together, producing the CD “Galvanized” along the way.

Around the same time, drummer Gregg Bendian was forming “The Mahavishnu Project“. At the time I was full time in “The Machine”, and trying to reinvent NAIL to include ALL of my influences (from Eno to McLaughlin to Metheny to King Crimson to Bill Evans). But they certainly caught my attention, and I began to court the band as something I was interested in. It just so happened that I knew all the music…!

I finally secured an audition with Gregg in early 2008, and did my first gig with the MP in May of that year. It was a little rough getting “back on the horse”, but much to my delight, like riding a bike, it all came back.

And now we come to something I thought I would never see, not to mention get a chance to play: a live rendering of “Visions Of The Emerald Beyond” – complete with string quartet, winds, and vocals. And at a killing NYC venue besides!
Well, I’ve gone on too long already. I’ll stop here, and present to you:

Vishnufest 09

Vishnufest 09

THE MAHAVISHNU PROJECT Presents:

THE 4TH ANNUAL VISHNUFEST
REDISCOVERING & EXPLORING THE CUTTING EDGE JAZZ-ROCK OF JOHN McLAUGHLIN & THE MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA.
3 Shows in 2 Days. Info: Mahavishnu Project
JULY 7th & 8th, 2009
It’s All Happening At:
Le Poisson Rouge
158 Bleeker St. New York, NY
Tickets are $23 at the door / $18 in advance
ADVANCE TICKETS STRONGLY SUGGESTED. THREE SHOW DISCOUNT PASS AVAILABLE.
THE MAHAVISHNU PROJECT (Vishnufest 2009 band)
Gregg Bendian, drums
Chad McLoughlin, guitar
Neil Alexander, keyboards
Zach Brock, violin
Jim Cammack, bass
Melissa Stylianou, voice
Premik Russell Tubbs, reeds
Esther Noh, violin
Matt Szemela, violin
Jon Weber, viola
Leigh Stuart, cello
Randy Taber, live sound
And introducing The VishnuVoices Choir with Melissa Stylianou, Abigayl Ventner, Missy Castleberry, Martha Cluver, Avery Griffin, Roosevelt Credit, John Young and Matt Hensrud.

…Maybe I’ll see you there?
– Neil

Post videos? Ok, cool

So – I’m new to the whole wordpress thing. Still. I just changed my “theme”, and I’m liking the new one.

I also like this new plugin that let’s me post videos from you tube. like this one:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEqrGBknBmg

Pretty cool, eh? FYI, this is our most watched video on You tube.

See ya!

New Calendar being posted to sites

Hey All –

A new version of the perfromance calendar is being assembled now, and should be psoted on both the Nailmusic Site and the Pdog Records site. This calendar will contain ALL my dates – everything and anything, with anyone (even solo). You can link to it HERE. Comments, anyone?

Widget try after WordPress upgrade

Just updated to vers. 2.3.3 of WordPress.

Well, the editor looks different. So – I am going to try – once again – to post a Reverb Nation Widget. I hope it works.

Here goes:

Neil%20Alexander%20%26%20NAIL

Well, this is supposed to be the “Fan Collector”. It works! But only in the post, not in the editor. Well, here it is – so sign up already!

Good Morning to all you…people

So, the mass email went out last night. If you’re here, chances are you saw it, as there’s a link to this blog from the email.

IF THIS IS TRUE – Won’t ya kindly let me know? Post a comment to this post. IF you came across this some other way, well gee! I’d love to hear about that as well.

Gotta go d the morning routine. Have a good day, y’all.

NAIL

Widgets: Do they work HERE

Well,…let’s find out now.
Hmmm….well, this was my 3rd choice, but I guess it worked!

Neil%20Alexander%20%26%20NAIL

Ok, here we go. How do I do this?

Small Square live

Making an attempt to blog into thhis software, and have it show up on the web…..

Seems like yet another learning curve, so I better get learnin’…. Yow!

Hello world!

Gee whiz bang -my very own blog…now what? Start posting, I guess!