Updates 

Hey folks, just letting you know that I’ve updated the press, media and buy tabs – including a great article from the Pitch, some videos, and links to buy “The Return.” 

Coming up: blog post about writing my latest big band chart, a few bandleader things, etc. 

ALSO! Excited to back up/play with the great Jerry Bergonzi this Friday at the KU Jazz Festival. He’s a phenomenal musician and I’m looking forward to hearing him in person. 

America/Tonight

An outstanding concert Friday night at the Kauffman Center with the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. I’m so blessed to play with such great musicians every day, and this was no exception. We did a concert featuring arrangements of great songs from movies, and I did a couple arrangements that seemed to work pretty well. One was something I did on Leonard Bernstein’s “America” and “Tonight” from West Side Story.

I’m pretty happy with the way my writing is coming along lately, and I’m shooting for a clarity that I don’t think I’ve thought about before. Transcribing Dan Gailey‘s music from staff paper to Sibelius has really helped, too. His writing is so perfect, it’s been a masterclass each opportunity I get to delve into it.

This particular arrangement features a reharm of America and some rhythmic displacement. I tried concentrating on simpleness of voicing over a new groove (there are about 8 measures missing of piano and guitar setting said groove from the beginning – technical difficulties).

Here’s a quick video of the beginning of the score in motion.

I sort of wanted to spend a little more time exploring different sections from the original, but I needed to keep the chart fairly brief, so I might do that in later versions. Overall, I’m happy with the way the “America” part of the chart worked out. Brad Gregory played a great solo (as usual) over a modal reharm of the B section.

The treatment of “Tonight” alluded to the original production version after the segue, and then a few subtle reharms leading into the shuffle feel. Rod Fleeman and I traded over the “Killer Joe” vamp, and I layered background figures in the horns to build excitement. After that, it’s a reprise of the main “Tonight” theme in trombone and flugelhorn + woodwinds, over what was supposed to be the opening groove (in a different key), but what it ended up being last night worked as well. I also couldn’t help myself with a “Somewhere” quote at the end (two major triads in whole steps, with the tritone response in bass voices. I always loved that the most beautiful tune from WSS ended with such a distant interval, signifying how Tony and Maria would never be close, even “someday.”

Here’s the Soundcloud recording from the concert for your listening pleasure.

Travels and So Forth

I probably should have blogged while overseas, but a lack of solid wifi and various reasons (such as being overseas) kept me from it. I have plenty of stories to tell, and most of them are fairly safe for public consumption. I’ve been to Europe a few times now, and it’s safe to say I have an affinity for the culture and general vibe of the countries I’ve visited, although I haven’t spent an inordinate amount of time in any of them. I’d like to rectify that, however.

This particular trip was with a college group, which perhaps isn’t the most conducive for adventure. On the other hand, we pretty much went from venue to venue, and played nearly every night, which was excellent (if not somewhat taxing). I tried keeping my eyes open as much as possible for the experience of playing, versus just the wide-eyed bewilderment of being abroad. I tried to watch and gauge the reactions of people in the audience, with the idea that the only common language we shared was that of music. Because, well, my French and German sucks.

20140721-084713-31633428.jpg
Montreux

In Brienz, it was a laid-back affair on the shores of a glacial lake. The Swiss crowd was locked in to what we were doing (this is a really good college band). At Montreux, we played two concerts to pretty huge audiences in an outdoor venue, even contending with a pretty heavy deluge on the second day. When our director acknowledged the rain-soaked people as “hardcore,” they cheered wildly. At various points in Germany, it was the same way. The people really enjoyed the music. Why?

20140721-085056-31856212.jpg
Deborah

One reason had to be Deborah Brown, who traveled with us. Deborah is perhaps my favorite jazz singer in the world right now. I’ve described her as “Ella 2.0,” and even that might be an understatement of her talent. She engages every audience, makes them feel welcome, and it fascinated me that audiences that, while I’m sure spoke much better English than I speak their native tongue, seemed to hang on her every word. It can’t be the lyrics, right? It has to be the way she interacts with them. The sounds she creates. Her voice. So I watched her – a very unassuming, beautiful and humble woman – make eye contact, flow with the music, smile, close her eyes, put every single note in the pocket, sing with so much soul and devotion…

At this point, who cares about language?

My last gig before leaving was at the Blue Room with Gerald Dunn and the Jazz Disciples. He pulled me aside during the first set and told me to engage the audience. To look at each one of them. To pull them in. And to carry myself with the idea that every person was going to be entertained, touched and taken on a journey that they’d never forget each time I put my horn to my lips. That’s a hard thing to do every single time. Sticky valves, poor execution, sore face… but really, who cares? People want to experience something. Give them an experience. Thanks, Gerald.

So I suppose that’s what I’ve brought back with me from such a minimal time on another continent. That, regardless of language, age, location and station in life, I’m tasked – blessed – with the opportunity to give people who are listening an experience, a story, a perspective. How cool is that?

Fireflies (at Montreux)

Here’s a recording made on the second day at Montreux – a Bob Brookmeyer composition called “Fireflies.” Beautiful writing.

Next week – some new compositions and discussion on them.

Personal Connections

After spending a long weekend in Minneapolis, I had a couple things happen that got me thinking about the social components of what I do, and how I want to spend more energy trying to connect with people (both in music and in general.)

There’s a common thread on this blog regarding sharing my sliver of the human experience with others, sharing the bandstand with other storytellers and their experiences, and hearing what they have to say both independently and in the context of whatever group we’re playing in at the time. However, I think at times I take for granted that the musical process isn’t just one-sided: the listeners and audience members have stories just as deep and integral as the musicians.

20140623-102253-37373948.jpg
While in Minneapolis, I went to several coffeehouses (on suggestion from Greg Kolsto of KC’s Oddly Correct) to explore the scene up north. I found some great coffee, but I also made connections with people, and it was incredibly enriching. At Dogwood Coffee, the barista who poured my Ethiopian was actually from Kansas City, and after talking with him for a bit, I noticed a customer wearing a Royals shirt, who had a son that had an oversized Jayhawks sweatshirt draped over his shoulders. I nearly unconsciously said “Rock Chalk” to the kid and his dad, and found out Pops grew up about ten miles from me, graduated the same year I did and was moving from KC to Seattle. We talked about the Royals and sort of thought it was crazy that three Kansas Citians were at a Twin Cities coffeehouse.

20140623-102205-37325225.jpg
At another spot, Kopplin’s, a barista overheard me telling my brother-in-law about teaching college trumpet, and said she was a trumpeter that wanted lessons, so I Facebooked her info a buddy of mine that teaches in the area. Another barista overheard that and asked me about the coffee scene in KC, and said she had heard great things about Oddly, Broadway Cafe and Quay Coffee.

Five-years-ago Clint Ashlock would have never made those connections. And I wouldn’t have made those connections today if it weren’t for the understanding that we all have stories to tell, and it’s because of the reinvigorated dedication to my art and profession that I’ve started to be more open to everyone I meet. Hopefully I can develop this and become a better and more complete person, all thanks to this music thing.

Linked is a tune I wrote that’s specifically about personal connections, a “hymn” of sorts, to knowing the best in people. In the past year or more, I’ve gotten to know the best in a few people, people that have changed my life for the better. I’m thankful for them, and I’m thankful for sharing the bandstand and sharing in their stories.

https://soundcloud.com/clintashlock/hymn-1

Paul Simon, John Coltrane, and Having Something To Say

A fellow musician asked me a short while ago how I title my tunes. I gave a rambling sort of answer that generally ended up saying that I nearly always have the title first, and the song is a representation of something important that I’ve experienced in life. He sort of blinked at me and told me “I just write the tunes, and then I’ve got a list of titles I pick from that sound cool.” I suppose I have the list of titles, but they always come first. I always want to tell a story, and one that’s meaningful to me.

One of my favorite albums of all time is ‘Graceland’ by Paul Simon. My mom used to listen to this all the time when I was a kid, and the sounds of that music have stuck with me since my age was in the single digits. Of course, at the time, I loved “You Can Call Me Al,” and the patter of Simon’s delivery, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve really appreciated ‘Graceland’ musically for its lyrics and incorporation of African music along with Simon’s sensibilities. However, I’ve also really grown to love it for what it had to say – both from Simon’s pencil as well as the greater issue of South African politics. I won’t dive into what was happening completely (Google it to find much better-written pieces), but suffice it to say ‘Graceland’ ended up quite a bit bigger than just eleven tracks of infectious music. There was a UN boycott on all things cultural from South Africa, and Simon recorded the album with (at the time) unknown-in-the-west South African musicians such as Ray Phiri and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. There was controversy (and probably a little arrogance), but Simon maintained that he wanted to bring the great music of that country to the rest of the world, not get involved in apartheid politics. After a Graceland tour with South African musicians (including Miriam Makeba), it’s safe to say that Simon got his wish. His music had a story to tell – it just happened to be the story of music from an entire country.

I’ve been listening to and reading about the music of the Coltrane quartet recently, something that I’ve always done, but now more than ever. Coltrane’s stories were deep, personal, wide-ranging. With that group, Trane was reflecting LIFE:

I’ve tried to become even more aware of this other side – the life side of music. I feel I’m just beginning again… music is a reflection of the universe, like having life in miniature. You just take a situation in your life or an emotion you know and put it into music.

He was interested in what he called “folk music,” which he said had much meaning, and that felt that “basically, the music should be dedicated to the goodness in people, the good things in life,” and that “folk tunes usually spring from these simple things.” He wanted to “listen to them and learn to combine what’s done around the world with what I feel here.”

My friend Hermon Mehari made a huge impact on my life when he told me, a long time ago, that he just wanted to play music that makes people feel good. Ever since he said that, my musical path has changed. I want to make people feel good, but in a way that shows that we all relate to the human experience, although in our own ways, but in the same way. And I want to do it through my stories, my take on that human experience. One of the many beauties of jazz is its abstract nature. Hopefully through work and practice, I can share my growth as a person through the notes I write and play, and the stories I tell.

Chasing Light, and Reflections

DSCF8917Colorado

It’s pretty cool being a musician. I think everyone in my profession has said that at least a trillion times in their lives, and it’s the truth. Being able to spend time with like-minded individuals creating, working on, and playing music is something unlike anything else I’ve ever known, and this past week with some great friends in Colorado is a perfect example of that.

As I mentioned on this site last week, I’ve been close friends with Ben Markley for over a decade. We’ve always understood each other, both personally and musically, and it’s when an understanding of that nature occurs that the best sort of music happens. Ben mentioned on a radio appearance at KUVO that even though we don’t play with each other as much as we’d like, when we do we pick right back up where we left off. The beauty of creative music, especially that which is based on improvisation and commonality of language, is just this – being able to enter a dialogue, tell a story, touch people.

So it’s weeks like this one that reinforce why I do what I do. Seeing the world (even if it’s just a neighboring state), making music, delivering my slice of what it means to be alive, even to a small number of people, and doing those things with people who have been important to me, or that I’ve never even met, is a special, special thing.

One of the tunes we recorded was a composition of mine entitled “Chasing Light,” which I wrote specifically for this venture.Chasing Light Leadsheet

There is a simple ostinato in 7/4 that starts the tune, with a simple two-chord harmony and some interplay between the two horns. This gives way to a 4/4 vamp for the piano, and back to the original two chords (still in 4) for a dual conversation between trumpet and alto, which extends into a second four measures, building to a climax. Following the release we reference the original 7/4 vibe for a drum solo, and ending with a few Maria Schneider ripoff chords. Again, this is an attempt at blurring composition with improvisation, maintaining the dialogue nature of jazz, allowing for storytelling over different textures, and so forth. I’m happy with how this one turned out, and instead of waxing any more poetically over it, I’ll just link, as always, to my soundcloud for you to check out. Hope you enjoy!

Recording, and “Tomorrow”

Tomorrow

“Tomorrow”

Later this week, I have the exciting prospect of flying to Colorado to hang, play and record with one of my best friends, and favorite musicians: Ben Markley. Ben and I got our undergrads at Fort Hays State, which is a pretty small school in Western Kansas. We’ve stayed in touch as best as we can, and try to get together to play, when we can. Ben is one of those guys who not only has musical talent, but works his tail off to make the most of it. He’s also an incredibly compassionate guy who’s probably a better human than he is a musician (of which he’s quite formidable). So, this week we’re going to get together and make some stuff happen.

When we started talking about this session, we divvied up the writing. I’d do four, Ben would do four. The compositional approach would need to be rooted in the tradition, and anything up would need to be swinging – because that’s what Markley does as good as anyone I know. However, while I try to swing in everything I play, much of what I’ve been writing lately isn’t based in bebop, so I wanted to try and capture whatever my current sound is AND cater to the session. The most interesting song (of my four) will not be discussed here – you’ll have to check out the recording for that! Instead, I’m going to briefly discuss the simplest of my tunes, a ballad entitled “Tomorrow.”

Tomorrow - Rhythm

(Normally I’d post my manuscript, but I can’t find it)

A few months ago, I was part of a collective tribute to Kind of Blue, the Miles Davis masterpiece. I had of course listened to it thousands of times and transcribed all the Miles solos, but after spending hours of dedicated, deep listening again, I ended up with a new favorite tune on the album – Flamenco Sketches, and that was the vibe I was hearing in my head for Tomorrow.

Nearly all of my tunes have a title first; nearly all of my tunes have some sort of meaning before I sketch sounds or rhythms. Not all, but close to it. Jazz is storytelling, and that’s what I always try to accomplish (even if the story is “Look How Many Words!”). Tomorrow is about hope, even through uncertainty. Tomorrow can be full of promise, yet also not. But for the most part, this tune focuses on hope.

In this case, I wanted the simplest of harmonic motion, because I knew for this recording there would be a lot of chords and probably some modal exploration. I also tend to write really dark, brooding chords, and for this tune, I wanted bright, hopeful, which is the starting point – the 8 bar A section that alternates between majors (and really, the same scale if you look at it modally since the non-tonic Eb is perceived as lydian and just isn’t marked in the first 8. Lazy.). It’s repeated up a half step, which of course signifies that things are looking up (and is all Wayne Shorter-y), and when it relaxes back down to the original tonality, I was hoping it’d seem like the tune was, well, complacent. However, like I said, Tomorrow is by its very nature uncertain. So we drop into emo-mode with a couple of aeolian pedals, which are both to create tension as well as reference Flamenco Sketches.

At any rate, that’s about 500 words on a very simple tune. I’m hoping it’ll be a good counterpoint to the other things we’re recording, and I’m hoping that it can capture this idea, this feeling of hope even through uncertainty. Because, that’s what we’re all going for, yeah?

From a quartet rehearsal – I’ll let you know when the new recording drops! Cheers.