June 2020 Newsletter

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Dear friends,

My heart is so heavy for this country. I am horrified by the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and the continued oppression and brutality our black brothers and sisters continue to face. We need to do better.

It is not lost on me that I owe a great debt to black artists for their contributions to American music. I must credit my late mentor Bobby Jackson for teaching me that “jazz” (this is not a unanimously accepted word to describe the music) was not created in a vacuum. It is of its time, reflecting the conditions under which it was created. Because of Bobby’s teachings, I began prioritized learning the history (they don’t teach you in school) surrounding the creation and development of “jazz” and reading the memoirs of its innovators. I still have much to learn.

I encourage you to find a way to take action. I have started each morning finding a new petition to sign and a new elected official’s email or phone number to voice my concerns. Here are some causes I have supported and the resources I have been using to learn more about the history of racism in the United States.

After some soul searching, I decided to follow through with releasing my EP, The New Groove, on Bandcamp tomorrow as planned. It is an uncomfortable time to be promoting and releasing new music. I do not want my music to detract from the important work that needs to be done to make this country live up to its ideals for all who live here. I already announced the wrong release date once and I feel strange about postponing the release again. Also, I want to be able to move forward from this project and start working on new music for you all. I hope The New Groove brings you comfort during this uncertain time.

I am thinking of you all during these trying times. Let’s build a better future with compassion and music.

With hope,

Featured Sounds

The Henry Godfrey Jazz Orchestra performs Snarky Puppy’s “Bad Kids To The Back” (arr. Henry Godfrey)

Sheet Music For Sale

Original compositions and arrangements for a variety of ensembles available on Noteflight Marketplace and Sheet Music Plus!

Latest From the Blog

Sneak peeks for future posts available on Patreon 

  • Cab Calloway and Minnie the Moocher – A couple of nights ago, I was on YouTube and the following video showed up as a recommendation. I am not sure why I decided to click, but I am so glad I did. … [Read More] 
  • Encountering Gunther: Reminiscing in Tempo – It was surprising to read about this groundbreaking piece that, after many years of being a devout Ellington fan and earning a degree in jazz composition, I never encountered before … [Read More]
  • Miss My Blog? – I miss it, too! Just when I felt like I was getting in a groove, the world got turned on its head …. [Read More]

Miss my blog?

I miss it, too! Just when I felt like I was getting in a groove, the world got turned on its head…

Being an artist, graduate student, and “gig worker,” the coronavirus has been devastating financially, educationally, creatively, and more. I talked about these hardships in more detail in my April Newsletter.

While it’s been hard, I’ve been rebuilding. I’m getting in a healthy routine and working on some exciting projects I will be sharing very soon! I also have some new blog content in the works that I think you’re going to like.

In the meantime, here are some ways you can help me keep writing and playing music.

Join me on Patreon. For a subscription as low as $1/month, you can access exclusive content, early access to my projects, free sheet music, and more!
Find Sam Spear Music on Patreon.

Like me on Facebook. And be sure to like and comment on my posts!
Find Sam Spear Music on Facebook.

Follow me on Instagram. I tend to get a bit more personal on Instagram, so you can follow me for great music and adorable photos of goslings by a pond.
Follow @sam_spear_music on Instagram.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel. I recently bought new recording gear, so I’m putting up new and better videos much more often. Subscribe and give my videos a “thumbs up,” or even a nice comment if you feel inclined!
Subscribe to Sam Spear Music on YouTube.

Follow me on Twitter. To be 100% honest, Twitter is the social media platform I least understand. So give me a follow and watch my epic blunders – and be among the first to hear about what I’m up to!
Follow @sam_spear_music on Twitter.

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter. I promise, I actually only send one email each month! No spam, only news about the music I’m creating and the blog posts I’m writing.
Subscribe to Sam Spear Music’s E-Newsletter.

Buy sheet music. If you’re a musician looking for some new pieces to learn, I have loads of sheet music for sale on SheetMusicPlus and Noteflight Marketplace. You can also commission me to write a new composition or arrangement just for you!
Browse sheet music selection.

Thank you so much for your continued support. I will have some fun, thought-provoking, highly nerdy blog posts for you soon!

May 2020 Newsletter

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Spring greetings!

I hope you are all doing well and getting some sunshine like we are here in Boston. I have enjoyed hiking during this time of social distancing. The header image for the newsletter is from my hike yesterday. It was gorgeous!

I am happy to report that I am feeling completely recovered from my mysterious illness. It has been amazing to have back my energy so I can practice, compose, hike, and finish the spring semester strong.

Today was my last day of classes for the school year. In some ways, it feels like school ended a long time ago. I am sad for all my graduating friends who are not getting the celebrations they deserve. I am sad for all of us who are uncertain they will be able to return to school in the fall. I am sad for all the administrators facing impossible decisions. I am sad for all the faculty and staff whose livelihoods are at stake. I have been reading a lot of articles about how the pandemic has and will continue to impact higher education in the US. Here’s an interesting one I read this morning from the New York Times.

I am excited to share that I set up a little “home studio” and have been making some short, fun videos to get comfortable with the setup. Now that I’m done with the spring, I am looking forward to making more videos and collaborating more with my friends. Stay tuned for more!

Today I released a transcription of John Coltrane’s solo on “Big Nick.” And here’s a video of me playing the first two choruses. I also shared my analysis of the solo with my followers on Patreon. For as little as $1/month you can gain access to exclusive content, early releases, free sheet music, and more!

I hope you all find ways to stay healthy and positive during this unusual time. As always, thank you for your support and encouragement.

With gratitude,

Featured Sounds

My parody of the Disney song “A Whole New World.” This arrangement is available on SheetMusicPlus: https://bit.ly/3aXuSK0.

Sheet Music For Sale

Original compositions and arrangements for a variety of ensembles available on Noteflight Marketplace and Sheet Music Plus!

Latest From the Blog

More coming soon, sneak peek for the next post available on Patreon 

  • April 2020 Newsletter – Last month’s news. [Read More
    (All of my newsletters are archived here.)
  • Encountering Gunther: Celebrating MBS – It was an honor to perform a concert with the New England Conservatory Jazz Orchestra celebrating the life and legacy of Gunther Schuller. … [Read More]
  • Encountering Gunther: My First Encounter With His Music – As part of New England Conservatory’s Jazz50 Celebration, the NEC Philharmonia and NEC Jazz Orchestra combined forces to produce the third performance of Gunther’s tour-de-force Encounters (2003)…. [Read More]

February 2020 Newsletter

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Greetings, friends!

I can’t believe we are nearing mid-February in this new decade. Time seems to be slipping by so quickly, but I work hard each day to feel like the time was well spent. January was a whirlwind of school, work, research, and setting the building blocks for a great year.

A few weeks ago, I finished reading Gunther Schuller’s autobiography entitled A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty. I thought it was important for me to have a good understanding of the person who established the jazz program I am in at New England Conservatory. While the book does not cover Gunther’s time as president of the Conservatory, I still learned a lot about him and about American music from the 1920s-1950s. I became fascinated with Gunther’s stories and he brought a lot of curiosity out of me so I began doing some research and started a new blog series about it.

I started my second semester in New England Conservatory’s Jazz Studies program. It has been great to continue learning with my classmates and from my professors. I am excited to be having a piece performed by the Jazz Composition Workshop Orchestra at the end of the semester. It has been an important experience to rehearse my piece with the band and learn about being a leader. I am also looking forward to several performances with the NEC Jazz Orchestra. For one of our performances, I will be playing five instruments – Alto Sax, Flute, Clarinet, Alto Flute, and – this one is completely new to me – E-Flat Clarinet!

I have continued my teaching fellowship with the Boston Public Schools, always a highlight of my week. I enjoy sharing my passion for music with the students and helping them see the potential they have. I am proud of their progress and perseverance.

One more update – I am excited to be making more of my large ensemble music available for purchase on my new Sheet Music Plus store! These will be in downloadable PDF format. I will still be keeping up my store on Noteflight Marketplace, where my small ensemble works are available for purchase as adaptable Noteflight files. Both are great platforms with their own advantages for music creators and buyers. Keep an eye out on social media for when I upload new scores.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend and a fabulous February!


Upcoming Performances

2/27- Cosmosis: The Music of Dave Holland with Jim McNeely, More Info

3/3 – Ester Wiesnerova’s Senior Recital, More Info

4/16 – Invisible Choir: The Music of Ken Schaphorst, More Info

Look out for announcement of more performances!

Featured Sounds

Manuel Kaufmann Jazz Orchestra, September 2019

New Scores For Sale

Original compositions and arrangements for a variety of ensembles available on Noteflight Marketplace  and Sheet Music Plus!

Latest From the Blog

  • Encountering Gunther: Charlie Parker’s Lament – He played so convincingly that I could not imagine that he would rather be playing another song, another note than the one he was playing right in that moment. Bit it was only an illusion. … [Read More]
  • Introducing Encountering Gunther – Gunther’s narrative opened more questions for me than he answered and this has inspired me to conduct some of my own research. … [Read More]
  • January 2020 Newsletter – How I ushered in the new year [Read More]

October 2019 Newsletter

I’ve just completed my first month of studying at New England Conservatory! It has been an amazing experience so far. I am taking classes on saxophone, composition, improvisation, and orchestration and loving every second. I have also been fortunate to work in NEC’s beautiful Blumenthal Library and as a teaching assistant in the Music Theory Department. I am looking forward to more wonderful times at NEC!

I am really excited to share that I am joining the board of Jazzhers, an organization with the mission of empowering female and non-binary high school jazz students. I have worked with Jazzhers in the past, and now we are going to be incorporated as a non-profit! Learn more about Jazzhers on our websiteFacebook, and Instagram.

I have been working on consistently posting on my blog. It has been fun sharing my musings and hearing all your thoughts about my writing.

I also have some new charts available on my Noteflight Marketplace store. I am usually uploading at least a couple new scores every month so check in every once in a while.

I’m so thankful for all the wonderful things going on in my life right now. Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

Happy autumn!
Upcoming Performances
10/17 – NEC Jazz Orchestra with Alan Pasqua and Antonio Sanchez, 7:30 pm, Jordan Hall (More Info)

10/18 – Cecil Taylor Tribute Concert, 7:30 pm, Jordan Hall (More Info)

10/30 – NEC Philharmonia & Jazz Orchestra + Hugh Wolff: Beethoven & Schuller, 8 pm,  Jordan Hall (More Info)
Featured Sounds
New Scores For Sale
Original compositions and arrangements for a variety of ensembles available on Noteflight Marketplace!
Latest From the Blog

 Four – Is There More To It? –  the ending of “If You Could See Me Now” reminded them of the ending of Miles Davis’s tune “Four.” … [Read More

Jitterbug Waltz – “Jitterbug Waltz” was written in 1942 by pianist/composer/entertainer Thomas “Fats” Waller … [Read More]

 Meet the Gellers – The Gellers were vital contributors to the West Coast jazz scene of the 1950s and played with the likes of … [Read More]

Four – Is There More To It?

I am in the process of building up a quintet book for my band consisting of originals and arrangements of my favorite standards. One of the tunes I have arranged is pianist/composer Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now.” The ballad became a signature piece in vocalist Sarah Vaughan’s repertoire.

Sarah Vaughan sings “If You Could See Me Now” with the Count Basie Orchestra

I first came across “If You Could See Me Now” on Tadd Dameron’s album The Magic Touch while I was searching for one of Dameron’s few extended works entitled “Fontainbleu” (also worth checking out). “If You Could See Me Now” was simply a gem I stumbled upon.

Barbara Winfield sings “If You Could See Me Now” on my favorite Dameron album, The Magic Touch

I always enjoy learning more about the history of jazz in my hometown of Cleveland and bringing more visibility to Tadd Dameron. That is why I arranged two of his tunes for my senior performance recital, including “If You Could See Me Now.”

My arrangement of “If You Could See Me Now” as performed in my senior undergraduate recital, May 2019

I have performed this arrangement with a few different groups and, after each time, at least one person in the ensemble told me that the ending of “If You Could See Me Now” reminded them of the ending of Miles Davis’s tune “Four.” They are undeniably nearly the same in terms of both melodic content and harmonization.

K.J. McElrath from JazzStandards.com validated this unmistakeable resemblance.

The progression in mm. 5-8 of section “A” is noteworthy in its use of the embellishing F#m7 -B7 cadence in m. 5. A simple I -V7(+5)/IV ( Eb -Eb7(+5) in the original) would have worked just as well. The changes Dameron chooses at this point are also heard in the final measures of a later Miles Davis tune, “Four.

– K.J. McElrath, JazzStandards.com

However, this synopsis did not help me prove that Dameron’s tune had a direct influence on Davis’s later composition.

In search of more answers, I tried to find more information about collaborations between Davis and Dameron. While I knew that both artists were active on the 52nd Street bebop scene at the same time, I was unaware of any evidence of direct collaboration. In writing this post, I came across a live album from 1949 entitled Miles Davis/Tadd Dameron Quintet that was recorded during a jazz festival in Paris. They played several of Dameron’s originals, unfortunately not including “If You Could See Me Now,” as well as standards. Davis blasted blazing bop lines throughout, a stark contrast from his iconic spacious modal playing. I was also thrilled to find one of my favorite (and under-discussed) saxophonists, James Moody fronting the band with Davis.

Miles Davis and Tadd Dameron sharing the bandstand in 1949

As I continued digging, the plot thickened. There have been allegations that Miles Davis did not pen “Four,” but rather it was tenor saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. While this 1988 review in the Los Angeles Times suggests that Vinson was well-versed in Dameron’s songbook, I have not been able to find evidence of any collaborations between Vinson and Dameron. This predicament has halted my investigation for now.

As Pablo Picasso said, “good artists copy; great artists steal.” However, even this quote’s origins are disputed. Incorporating quotes of other works into the improvisational and compositional processes have been a foundational element of jazz since the beginning, so a scenario such as this one is no surprise, yet it still sparks my curiosity. If Dameron, Davis, and Vinson “could see me now” writing these speculations, I wonder how they would respond.

Willene Barton: An Overlooked Link in the Big Three Tenor Legacy

As you may know, I created and maintain a Women in Jazz Directory, which includes the most comprehensive (and ever-growing) list of past and active women in jazz that I have been able to find on the internet or elsewhere. I created this resource because it is something I wish I would have had earlier in my development when I was first becoming conscious of how my gender influenced the way potential colleagues, mentors, and other industry members would see me. My hope is for this tool to be empowering and educational, to show other women that this can – and has – been done by women many times over, even if they don’t want to admit it in jazz history class.

I first read about tenor saxophonist Willene Barton in the book Madame Jazz (Leslie Gourse). I was compelled to learn more about her and found what little information I could.

Willene Barton (1928-2005?) was born in Oscilla, Georgia and later moved with her family to New York City where she taught herself to play the saxophone. She played primarily with all-women groups including The Coronians and groups led by former members of The International Sweethearts of Rhythm. There seems to be some discrepancy about whether she was ever a member of the Sweethearts or if they had disbanded by the time she was on the scene. Barton particularly looked up to tenor saxophonists Vi Burnside, who had made her career with the Sweethearts.

When listening to Barton, I am strongly reminded of the husky, growling sounds of saxophonists Ben Webster and Illinois Jacquet. Ironically, after reading the information I could find, it appears she played with them, along with others including Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons. Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis managed her career for a time. It is a wonder how someone so well-connected has been left out of the retelling of this lineage.

While Barton’s discography is not extensive, her entire album There She Blows! is available on YouTube. (I have not been able to figure out why the album cover has her on alto even though I can only find recordings of her on tenor.)

I also found this wonderful live performance as part of a Spanish program about women in jazz. (Starts at 13:25)

Here is her single “Rice Pudding,” more in the rhythm and blues vein.

I was also able to find record of Barton collaborating with trombonist/composer/arranger Melba Liston, who has, along with Mary Lou Williams, posthumously become an icon for the women in jazz movement that was reignited by the larger #MeToo movement. They organized a group to play at the 1981 Kool Jazz Festival.

One of my dreams is to live to see women written back into jazz history. We have been here all along. It is time to shine light on these artists, not relegated to a special section in the back of the book for the women, or even worse, completely left out. After reading this, I hope you agree that Willene Barton’s name could easily go alongside those of whom she played with, and deserves to be there.