New Single: Cabin Fever

Today, Henry Godfrey and I are releasing a new single on Bandcamp!

“Cabin Fever” is a short burst of energy, representing the angst caused by social isolation.

And check out the music video!

On the first Friday of each month, Bandcamp has generously been waiving their cut of the sales to the artists. It’s a great day to support your favorite artists by purchasing their music and merch through Bandcamp.

Listening Log: Week 5

Minor Bash — Lou Donaldson

Lou Donaldson has such an incredible sound on the saxophone. The clarity and development of his solos is always mind-blowing, and his playing on this track is no exception. I will be sharing a transcription of his great solo soon!

I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling — Louis Armstrong

I have been digging into Louis Armstrong’s album Satch Plays Fats. Every song is outstanding in its own right. I first heard this tune on The Gellers and really enjoyed it, but failed to investigate its roots. It was a joy to hear it reimagined by Pops.

Blues for Booty Green’s — Roy Hargrove

One of my classmates shared this Roy Hargrove track with us. The sincerity and intention behind every note is captivating, a rare intensity that brings few to mind, most notably Louis Armstrong.

Rosetta — Earl Hines

I mentioned a rendition of this Earl Hines song in a previous Listening Log, one that he recorded with Johnny Hodges. The version I am sharing today is from the album Earl Hines in New Orleans. This is an album worth checking out in its entirety.

The World is Waiting for the Sunrise — Benny Goodman

I came across this live Benny Goodman video when searching for music to share with some of my students. The spirit of this performance is electrifying.

Listening Log: Week 1

During these uncertain times, it is easy to rush back to the music, foods, and activities that make me comfortable. It’s time to shake that up!

I need to find a way to stay accountable to listening to “new” music (whether it is recently recorded or something from 100 years ago that I never heard before). After a long hiatus, I started keeping a listening log again and thought it would be fun to start sharing five of my favorite tracks of the week.

This is not a review or critique. I am just going to share five tracks I really enjoyed this week and where to learn more about the artists. Please don’t send unsolicited requests for me to review music.

The tracks are not listed in any particular order.

With all of that out of the way, here’s Listening Log: Week 1!


If It’s Magic – Artemis

I was blown away by this magical track that jazz supergroup Artemis dropped to promote their upcoming self-titled album. The group honored this Stevie Wonder classic, yet found their own voice on it, a magnificent accomplishment.

Cynical Sideliners – Ambrose Akinmusire

This stripped down track from Ambroses Akinmusire’s album on the tender spot of every calloused moment is pensive and haunting. It made me reflect on how critical people are from behind screens in the age of social media without putting anything on the line themselves.

Ain’t Nobody’s Business – Jason Moran

Ain’t Nobody’s Business has been one of my favorite songs for more than a decade now (particularly the Billie Holiday version). It was refreshing to hear Jason Moran’s take – crafting practically a new setting – on this tune in his album ALL RISE: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller.

Play Money – Jenny Scheinman & Allison Miller

Play Money, the first track on Jenny Scheinman & Allison Miller’s album Parlour Game, is a series of winding melodic lines infused with blues language. I enjoyed the journey of the entire album, and the warm quality the violin brought to the music.

(While there is a rich tradition of violin in “Jazz” and improvised music, it is still a less featured melodic instrument in these idioms.)

Rosetta – Johnny Hodges & Earl Hines

Okay, I’m cheating with this one a little bit because I knew this track and album (Stride Right) before this week. It is a song I know and love that brings me joy and comfort during this time. I’m also including it here because I want more people to know about this album!

What did you think of my list this week? Who have you been listening to? Let me know in the comments!

FRIDAY: The Ragtime Project EP and Book Launch

On Friday, August 7th, I am going to be releasing my Ragtime Project EP on Bandcamp! The recording will consist of three tracks – Rag in Fourths (released as a single last month), Imitation Rag, and a third track loosely inspired by the Ragtime aesthetic.

And if that wasn’t exciting enough, I am going to be self-publishing my first book! The book will contain some of the material from my Ragtime Project blog, plus additional material.

I am so excited to share this project with you. It is undoubtedly the most ambitious feat I’ve taken on as an artist, combining my passions for performance, composition, research, and writing. I hope my music brings joy and my writings spark curiosity during this trying time in our lives.

Praise for The New Groove

Thank you so much to Tristan Geary from Sound of Boston for writing a wonderful review of The New Groove! I am so appreciative of the time they took to read up on my music, background, and inspiration behind the project.

Here are a few of my favorite lines:

Spear’s alto playing is incredibly relaxed, melodies and improvised lines are delivered with poise and ease that makes them sound like overlapping conversation.

sounds like a pocket-sized Duke Ellington big band

This track is loaded with blues articulations but Spear never over-blows, and each line is sparkling, clear, virtuosic but also singable.

The New Groove is still available for purchase on Bandcamp and for streaming on most major services (SpotifyiTunes, and YouTube Music, and others).

Sheet music for The New Groove is also available on my Bandcamp merch store and The New Groove Songbook is 20% off with the code new_groove_songbook through Friday.

Ragtime Project Update

It has been an incredibly moving experience to work on my Ragtime Project. I have learned so much about the complicated, tragic, triumphant history of popular music in the United States through my research, reflection, composition, and analytical processes.

My original plan was to release the full project on July 3rd, but, after careful consideration, I decided to postpone the full release date to provide me ample time to put forward the best work I can. The music deserves the highest level of attention and there is still so much I want to learn! Stay tuned for a new release date.

However, I will be releasing a single from the Ragtime Project EP on Friday, July 3rd. I will be giving all the proceeds from the single to The Sphinx Organization, which has the mission of “transform[ing] lives through the power of diversity in the arts.”

I have already released a few blog posts encompassing the Ragtime Project and have more in the works so be on the lookout!

Ragtime Project Blog Series

Announcing My Next Project

In my next release, I look forward to exploring the music of Ragtime – the first popular music originating in the United States.More

I also compiled a list of resources I have used in my Ragtime research. I update this collection regularly.

I look forward to sharing more with you about the importance of this music and its relevance in today’s musical and societal landscapes.

OUT NOW: THE NEW GROOVE

I have wanted to put out music for a long time but was too afraid to do it. When will I be “good enough” at the saxophone? When will my compositions sound “original enough” to be worthy of being recorded? When will I have enough money to afford studio time, engineers, compensate musicians, promote, etc.? The pandemic made me realize that there will never be a “perfect” time to release music, that I will always be a work in progress, and that it’s about time to rip off the bandaid and put something out there!

I was really inspired by my peers and the amazing recordings, livestream concerts, and other creative pursuits they were accomplishing online. With the help of my boyfriend and YouTube, I learned how to use my new recording gear.

Then I started creating the music. My usual composition process involves me sitting at the piano and painstakingly try things out, writing them down on manuscript paper as I go. I took a different approach this time. I wrote all the songs starting from my saxophone. I thought more about layering different sounds/textures instead of long melodic lines. I incorporated some effects like distortion, echoes, octave doublings, and more. I never thought I would create music with such a strong technological component. But I realized that now is a time to try new things and step out of my comfort zone, and I’m so glad I did!

Time to get your groove on!

Summer Reading List 2019

Reading about jazz was a passion of mine from a young age. Unfortunately, this facet of my fascination with the music took a backseat during my undergraduate studies, but it’s back in full swing (ha)! Here’s what I read this summer. What did you check out?

Morning Glory, Linda Dahl

Mary Lou Williams’ story is an inspiring one. It was moving to read about how she used the adversities she faced not as excuses for failure but fuel for success. I was particularly amazed by how she went from being solely reliant on her ears to becoming one of the most admired arrangers of her time. I can’t recommend this book enough. It was a powerful read.

Find it here.

Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, Angela Davis

Davis’s book focuses on Bessie Smith, Gertrude Ma Rainey, and Billie Holiday. I listened to Holiday extensively during my early development as a musician, only being able to understand so much about the very mature topics she often sang about. Davis helped me to understand the repertoire of these blues singers in a whole new light, contextualizing their work with the times they lived in. While the book is short page-wise, it is written for a more academic audience, making it a time-consuming and enlightening read.

Find it here.

Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth, John Szwed

As previously mentioned, Billie Holiday was a very important influence for me when I first became interested in jazz (and still is). What I really appreciated about this book was Szwed’s effort in bringing back Billie’s humanity and dignity. So often discussions and literature about her focus on her traumatic past, drug usage, and trouble with the law, leaving very little space to discuss her art and who she really was.

Find it here.

Lady Sings the Blues, Billie Holiday and William Dufty

I have been meaning to read this for so long and am so glad I finally did. This book is notoriously scrutinized for its questionable truthfulness. However, and perhaps Szwed’s book helped me to see this way, that did not bother me. I found it incredibly moving to read Billie’s story the way she felt it. For my purposes, it did not matter if some dates didn’t line up or if she remembered an event differently than others. Reading this book felt like she was speaking directly to me, and I know others have shared this same experience.

Find it here.

Beneath the Underdog, Charles Mingus

Another classic memoir… This book is discussed a lot, however, it seems like not a lot of people actually read it and just talk about the very inflammatory parts. If you are looking to find out detailed information about Mingus’s life, career, etc., this is not that book. However, I thought it masterfully showcased his creativity in a new medium – writing. I do hope that much of the contents of the book are fictional, but we may never know how much is true.

Find it here.

A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty, Gunther Schuller (in progress)

As an entering student at New England Conservatory, I thought it was crucial for me to learn more about Gunther Schuller. As NEC’s president, Schuller founded the Jazz Studies and Third Stream (now Contemporary Improvisation) departments. I wrote a paper about him this past spring and read segments of his autobiography in my research. Now, I am committed to reading the massive work in its entirety.

Find it here.

Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews, Arthur Taylor

This book features short interviews with a who’s who list of jazz musicians. These interviews are particularly candid because drummer Art Taylor was conducting them, making the artists feel more at ease talking to a peer. He asked the artists to recall their relationship with Bird and Bud Powell, their thoughts on the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, and how they felt about the use of technology in music. I found their answers to be nuanced and thought-provoking.

Find it here.

Madame Jazz, Leslie Gourse (in progress)

This book is near and dear to me because my copy once belonged to my beloved late teacher Bobby Jackson. I deeply wish we could talk about it together. This book profiles female artists in various stages of their careers in the early 1990s. Some of the women just starting out in the book are now seasoned professionals. Some of the more established women have now gone into obscurity. It is difficult to read about some of the barriers these women faced to achieve all they did. As I read this book, I am in awe of them and aspire to continue their legacies.

I have started a Women in Jazz Directory on my website, which includes a list of musicians, industry members, and ensembles. This book has been incredibly helpful in expanding my list.

Find it here.

I Know That You Know

I love jazz standards. I especially love finding great tunes that have somehow escaped the common repertoire (though tunes do cycle in and out of popularity). To celebrate my first gig as a bandleader in Boston, I thought it would be fun to profile one such tune that we will be performing tonight entitled “I Know That You Know.”

The website JazzStandards.com provides great background on the tune:

“I Know That You Know,” composed by Vincent Youmans with a lyric by Anne Caldwell (also known as Anne Caldwell O’Dea), was introduced by Beatrice Lillie in the 1926 Broadway musical  Oh, Please!  … Although the show ran for only 75 performances, the song rose to number five on the charts in 1927, performed by Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra. The Benny Goodman Orchestra revived it in 1936 and took it to number 14 on the charts.

JazzStandards.com

This tune was on a couple albums I really enjoy but for some reason it did not stick out to me when I first heard it. It wasn’t until being introduced to Jimmie Noone’s version during Survey of Woodwinds Styles class that I was completely captivated. Between the great arrangement, the sweet tone of the alto saxophone on the melody, and Noone’s virtuosic obligato, I was obsessed. I have probably listened to this version well over 100 times at this point:

Years later, I found another take by Noone:

These are the two versions that I had already heard prior to realizing the splendor of this simple tune. In retrospect, they are absolutely amazing.

Nat King Cole takes it very up-tempo. I love his phrasing on the melody, especially how he sometimes pulls back against the time:

The infamous Sonny Side Up rendition, while great, somewhat obscures the melody with the heavy tenor counterpoint, which is perhaps why I did not realize this was the same tune at first. I love how the two Sonnys express their different musical personalities on this tune (and the rest of the album):

I was thrilled to find out that Sonny Stitt recorded this tune on alto:

Twice! (maybe more?):

My jaw dropped upon first hearing this stunning take by Art Tatum. His use of the whole-tone scale is particularly jarring as are his metric modulations:

And then I discovered “I Know That You Know” made some appearances in film. Here is a fun take from Tea For Two (1950). I love the incorporation of tap dancing in the performance of the tune. While there is some dated dialogue at the end of the clip, I think it is still worth a watch (or 50 if you are like me):

I then found this clip from Hit the Deck (1955). It includes a verse, and I have not been able to determine if that was added for this film or if it is original to the composition. While this performance is in the theater vein rather than jazz, I appreciate the way the delivery of the lyrics changes their meaning:

The lyrics to the tune seem pretty consistent between all the vocal versions:

I know that you know
That I’ll go where you go
I choose you, won’t lose you
I wish you knew how much I long
To hold you in my arms

This time is my time
Will soon be goodbye time
Then in the star light, hold me tight
With one more little kiss
Say, nighty night

They do not hold much substance, and while they are sweet, are not what attracts me to this tune. I think it is the unusual accenting of the 4th beat, along with the contrast elements of the melody with the first half being stagnant and the second half with a lot of motion, that keep me so invested in this song.

What do you think of this tune? Is there another version I should check out? Which tunes are you so crazy about that you have to scour the internet for every version you can find? Let me know!

Freddy Martin: My New Hometown Hero

One of my life’s passions is studying jazz history, as well as interplay of jazz’s evolution with that of American culture. I am trying to use my blog as a space for my musings rather than filling up everyone’s Facebook feeds. I hope you find this content interesting and that it shows another side of my musicianship, that of the researcher.


I am always thrilled to discover artists from my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland has a rich history of producing great jazz musicians, so it was no surprise for me to come across yet another interesting character, saxophonist and bandleader Freddy Martin. While Martin allegedly did not consider himself to be a jazz musician, he was influential in the swing era and inspired some of the greatest jazz saxophonists of all time. Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington’s long-time lead alto player (and my favorite saxophonist) gave Martin the nickname “Mr. Silvertone,” in admiration of his sweet sound. Legendary tenor player Chu Berry once cited Martin as his favorite saxophonist.

Upon first listening to Freddy Martin, the sweet tone for which he was praised was so evident. I am nostalgic for (if that is even possible, since I was not alive during this time) a return to the “sweet” sound of the swing era. The warm, lyrical quality of his playing is refreshing in comparison to the straight tone and busy playing in vogue now.

Another interesting aspect of Freddy Martin’s band is the repertoire, which included several classical pieces adapted to a dance band style. The most famous of these is “Tonight We Love,” adapted from Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 23. Compare the two side-by-side.

The original Tchaikovsky

The Freddy Martin Rendition
(from the movie Mayor of 44th Street, the only video I have been able to find of Martin performing “live.”)

I was surprised to see hear this cross-genre work happening at such an early date (the film was released in 1942, so the arrangement was likely written even earlier than that). I often associate this type of experimentation with the Third Stream movement, spearheaded by Gunther Schuller (who founded the jazz studies department at New England Conservatory, where I will begin studying in a few short weeks). I also think of Duke Ellington and his adaptations of classical works for jazz orchestra (Peer Gynt Suite, and perhaps most famously, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite).

Ironically, Freddy Martin released his own rendition of the Nutcracker Suite (arranged by Ray Austin), 18 years before the infamous Ellington/Strayhorn arrangements! Check out these takes on the March.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1892)

Freddy Martin (1942)

Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn (1960)

This leaves me with so many questions! Was Ellington aware of the Martin recording? Was Martin’s embrace of classical repertoire an inspiration to Ellington, as Martin’s saxophone playing was an inspiration to Hodges? Did Martin and Schuller ever have any dialogue? Hopefully, with some more digging around, I can unearth some more answers.

Sources
Freddy Martin Obituary, New York Times
Freddy Martin, Encyclopedia.com
Freddie Martin, Solid!