CoD 2010 Musician’s Concert

Ah yes, it’s that time of year again….

The unwritten posts are starting to pile up. There’s about 4 of ’em right now. But with this event happening tonight (it’s March 18th here ATM) and my continuing desire to use E-Programs instead of paper ones, I’m going to put this up right quick…

So – once again it’s time for the Annual SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance 2010 MUSICIAN’S CONCERT.

For the E-Program, click HERE.


As usual, we are pleased to present an amazing assortment of musics with more stylistic diversity then you can shake a stick at! Jazz, Classical, Rock, Funk, Ambient, electronica – you name it, we got it.

Musicians at SUNY

Last Year’s Concert

This year we are featuring Performances by:
CARY BROWN
DAVE LEWITT
NEIL ALEXANDER  (hi there!)
IAN CARROLL
DAVID NICHOLS
OLEG ARZOUMANOV
STUART ISACOFF

Special guests are numerous. Harrison Roach (singer-songwriter type), Guitarist Scott Barkin, and I’m pleased to announce that I will be doing  a very cool short piece with my daughter Rebecca – performed entirely on handheld devices.

As our old friend Richard Cameron-Wolfe (brilliant composer, and the Musician’s coordinator for for the 1st 10 years I worked there) posted on our Facebook event page:

Music dances in the aether; dancers sing through space. When the essence of our being is made vulnerable/tangible through our respective arts, the existence of the eternal moment is confirmed.

We’ll be videoing again this year. I’ll try to get some footage up ASAP (but it’s going to be waiting in line behind a dozen other items waiting to be posted). (!)

Anyway, thanks for reading. Maybe we’ll see you there. 🙂

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.

Lost Document found on Craigslist

This came across my digital desk today. I immediately recognized as a “long lost document”, a set of guidelines that every musician I’ve ever worked with knows (and could recite under their breath). Profound in their simplicity, forgotten, yet remembered, unspoken, and not often enough acted upon…

I hereby present to you the Sideman’s Bill OF Rights. Authorship in this case is claimed by someone calling themselves “Mudd”. I make no claims. Enjoy.  🙂

Read more

Street Noise – Painting by Artist Clayton Buchanan

Here’s the painting that Clayton did of my performing down at the waterfront in Newburgh last month. This painting just won an award in the President’s Show of the Kent Art Association. More details to follow; but I thought you’d enjoy the image.

Clayton Buchanan's Painting "Street Noise"

Clayton Buchanan's Painting "Street Noise"

VISHNUFEST: Lila’s Dance

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZpW_ZGf7Po

Finally – after a failed attempt to stream the gig and crashing iPhone apps (re: Audioboo!! You listenin’??), 2 days later I finally got one song up on Youtube. There will be more; I have 90 minutes of footage and will need to go through it all, but as soon as possible I will post more trax.

All in all, it was a tremendous experience – dare I say the musical “thrill of a lifetime”. I hope we get to do it again.
My best –
– Neil

Vishnufest: The Sets

So – I did say I was going to write a post about playing the music of John McLaughlin, and all that that entails.

Well…..this isn’t it.

However, I wanted to – for the sake of those who are fans and cannot attend (or can and want to know what to expect) – post the complete list of material we will be performing over the next 2 nights. Once again the venue is:

Le Poisson Rouge – 158 Bleecker St, New York, NY

Shows 1 & 2 are tuesday night (tonight!) and show 3 is wednesday night.

So, without further ado, here are the set lists for this year’s VISHNUFEST.

Show 1: The John McLaughlin Songbook – Before & After Mahavishnu.
Extrapolation
New York on my Mind
Guardian Angels*
Do you hear the voices?
Electric Dreams
Freindship
Devotion

Special: SUITE FOR CHOIR:

I Am My Beloved’s
One Truth
Law Is Not Love
God Then, God Now
Name of Truth
Walk

Show 2: BEST OF MAHAVISHNU

Birds Of Fire
Miles Beyond
Celestial Terrestrial Commuters
You Know You Know
Vital Transformation
Dance of Maya
One Word
Meeting of the Spirits

Show 3: RETURN TO THE EMERALD BEYOND

(-includes String Quartet, Premik Russel Tubbs on sax/flute and Melissa Stylianou, voice)
Eternity’s Breath
Lila’s Dance
Can’t Stand Your Funk
Pastoral
Faith
Cosmic Strut
If I Could See
Be Happy
Earth Ship
Pegasus
Opus One
On The Way Home To Earth

And there you have it! Hope those of you in the area who like this music can make it – you won’t be disappointed. 🙂

Love to you all –
– Neil

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

Rules of Engagement: Fighting Frustration as a Performer

NEIL’S “3 Rules Of Engagement”: My three personal requirements that make a gig, well, worth doing.

I have been a performing musician now for more then 35 years(!). I still LOVE it – and that’s saying something! But in the last decade or so I began to find myself in situations that were not entirely to my liking, breeding anger and frustration. Hmmm…

I’ve heard it said that being a Pro musician means that you take a lot of work that maybe you’re not that happy with…or does it? When I left “The Machine” and began to take a wider variety of gigs, I found myself getting tremendously frustrated in certain situations. I had to ask myself some tough (for me) questions – did I want to be a professional musician or not? Does that mean I have to do gigs I hate? How can I keep myself from falling into the trap that so many have fallen into before me? After a bit, I came up with these three “rules”, or guidelines:

1) Acceptable Financial Compensation. Commensurate with the work involved. ‘Nuff said.

2) High Visibility/High Profile
. A situation that puts me/us in front of a LOT of people, or the RIGHT people, and makes visible use of my abilities – in other words, lets me show my stuff.

3) Spiritual and/or Personal Satisfaction. This one’s a little harder to define. It could mean music that brings me great enjoyment or other such satisfaction, or that lets me experiment in a very creative way. Generally, it’s music that I can feel good about and gives me a sense of accomplishment. I can generally tell, as I find myself getting angry & frustrated with music that doesn’t have this quality – even if it’s an “easy” gig.

Generally, any TWO of these rules MUST be met for me to take the gig. For example, playing extremely creative music to an empty house for no money WON’T do it for me. Subsequently, playing a show that pays well but doesn’t have at least ONE of the other qualities, well, doesn’t really do it for me either.

Though these “rules” are not generally “hard & fast’, they can really help in critical decision making. It’s especially important to apply these guidelines to my own Group NAIL, lest we find ourselves in situations which are not beneficial to the group’s presence in some way.

I have to say that at this time, the Mahavishnu Project (as great as it is), is only meeting ONE of these requirements (can you guess which one?). In addition, I have been putting in a lot of time in rehearsals, and am beginning to feel frustrated. I had to do a bit of looking inward – and that’s when I remembered my 3 rules of engagement. (My next post will be about the upcoming Vishnufest shows…!)

Whenever I am offered work as a performer, be it gigs or recording, I look to these guidelines. When taken into consideration, they can save me a considerable amount of frustration and help me to make what can sometimes be difficult decisions about whether or not a gig is worth the trouble!

As usual, your comments are always welcome. Thanks for reading. 🙂

The Jazz: FREDDIE JACOBS QUARTET – KENSHA

FREDDIE JACOBS QUARTET – KENSHA

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FFHJBUtsX0

From a recent jazz gig with Trumpeter Freddie Jacobs. This guy has been a great influence on my jazz playing. Featured here are myself (pno), Freddie (tpt), Cameron Brown (bass) and Bob Meyer (dms), another cat who has been extremely supportive and helpful to me. It’s a pleasure to work with them, and they have made me feel at home in the world of traditional Jazz as I never had before.
This was recorded at The Falcon in Marlboro NY, on April 25th 2009. Enjoy. 🙂

Upcoming Posts. Yeah, right.

Just thought I’d pop in to let you all know what I’m working on, blog-wise. There are a few ideas bouncing around my big fat head, and I try to keep a running list of things I want to share. Here’s the partial:

Tribute Band Part 2

Tribute Band part 3

CD’s I really want to make

Playing Mahavishnu:

Birth of an Idea: Working with a Vjay

There are more, but rest assured I’m planning on getting to those ASAP.

Now, how many charts do I have to write this week?

Best to all,

– Neil