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.
I am so excited to release my Ragtime Project EP and Ebook! It has been an intense and challenging process to bring this multi-faceted project to fruition, testing my performing, composing, producing, research, and writing chops to the max.
Thank you so much to everyone who has encouraged and supported me through this process. Special thanks to Henry Godfrey for playing drums, mixing and mastering the audio, and keeping me focused on the end goal.
I have been wanting to share this music and writing with the world for months. I can’t wait to hear what you think!
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.
I am excited to share that my new sheet music store is now up and running on my website! I have original compositions and arrangements for a variety of instrumentations including lead sheets, saxophone quartet, small jazz ensembles, and big band.
I am so thankful to be entering my next year of life being healthy, happy, and inspired. Thank you to everyone who has sent their birthday wishes. It means so much.
Join me in celebrating this milestone by streaming my EP The New Groove!You can find it on Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube Music among many other places. And it is still available to purchase on Bandcamp. If you like it, please share it with your friends!
Thanks for continuing to support me and my music. Can’t wait to make more for you soon!
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!
Sometimes it can be a struggle to put on some new music. I find a lot of comfort in listening to my favorite albums over and over again. While I do deepen my understanding and appreciation of this music when I listen to it again, it is important to be exposed to more artists. I am really thankful one of my incredible mentors Allan Chase (who has his own amazing blog) introduced me to the music of Lorraine and Herb Geller.
In 1949, Lorraine and Herb met at a Los Angeles jam session. They married in 1952. The Gellers were vital contributors to the West Coast jazz scene of the 1950s and played with the likes of Jimmy Giuffre, Bud Shank, and others live and in the studio.
Lorraine was diagnosed with asthma prior to giving birth to her daughter, Lisa. The birth took a toll on Lorraine’s health and shortly after she suffered pulmonary edema and an asthma attack, tragically passing away at the age of 30.
Lorraine only recorded one album as a leader entitled At the Piano, released a year following her untimely passing. It is a gem, a sampling of the soundscape of a burgeoning artist gone too soon.
The couple recorded together as well. They cut a record aptly titled The Gellers which I have been listening to obsessively for the past week or so. The tunes, a mixture of standards and originals, are catchy yet find ways to surprise and delight the listener. The music feels effortless, even on the burning opening number “Araphoe,” a contrafact over the Ray Noble classic “Cherokee” (first made famous as the theme for the Charlie Barnet band but then became a bebop anthem with the rise of Charlie Parker). I found myself taking particular interest in “I’ve Got A Feeling I’m Falling” for its driving swing and nuanced arrangement.
I look forward to further exploring the music of the Gellers and their affiliates. Their music has been a gateway for me to learning more about the West Coast jazz stylings, an area in which I would like to be better versed. What do you think about the Gellers’ music and story?
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.
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.