Top 50 JAzz Blog

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fillin' the Void: 1. Guitarists.

One of my oldest friends among the musicians is very persistent at urging me to 'fill the void' and spend less time at my neo dunciad chronicles of the collapsing Jazz Biz.

I usually explain that it is just part of the territory and tells a part of the story not significantly covered. I've come to see it as the demolition phase of a reconstruction. The bulldozer knocks down what's left of a rotting building, dump trucks haul away the debris and the site is ready for something better.

But it is less necessary. Hell, the Newport capitulation of a last minute Parker-Ali-Gayle Trio is telling and has few precedents. The floundering of much of bloat o rama is another tell.

I've been looking to more engaging void fill options. One will be more pieces on music methods as there isn't much useful writing about improvisation aesthetics or practice when compared with 'classical' where there is a classic set from Walter Piston, Schoenbergs own work on Harmony, Slonimsky's thesaurus and a trove of other works.

Derek Bailey wrote one of the few interesting and useful books so far and Lewis Porter includes music analysis in his works.

Another facet to filling the void is increasing the number of artist profiles. My usual routine is to invite people to answer a set of survey, query questions and just post whatever they answer but many of the invited don't follow up and who can blame them? People are busy, have writing inhibitions or question the merit of parking some piece of themselves in my dubious hell hole. That aside, one way to handle this is to just gather stuff from their own web sites, do lots of linky and toss in a few sentences of my own. For the first one of these hack jobs, I decided to bother guitarists as it is a popular instrument. My My Space page has quite a few and the platform is still the best resource for finding out what the under 50 musician world is up to. Facebook still sucks at this and I have little use for something that will clutter my life with breathless entreaties from tertiary friends of friends yammering about the soocer score their kid got. I never would have known about Mike Baggetta were it not for my space. He has this striking and sturdy approach that will no doubt unfold with new marvels over the course of his participation. TIN/BAG is particularly interesting to me because of the unusual possibilities in a simple duet of guitar and trumpet. Here are the basic contours of his story thus far from his web site bio with a bit of trim from me for flow. Note to Mike: It's okay to write in the first person, god these conventions of bio writing really need an upgrade. "Mike is originally from Agawam, Massachusetts. Inspired by his father, he began playing guitar in high school after bouts with violin and trombone. He first learned from guitarist Tom Dempsey while performing with state jazz ensembles and local jazz musicians. His early talents won awards from the I. A.J. E. and Berklee. He went on to study music at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University for Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in Jazz Studies. Throughout his formal education Mike was invited to events by the New Jersey Jazz Society, Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead residency program at the Kennedy Center, the Fish Middleton Jazz Scholarship Competition and the Gibson Guitars Jazz Guitar Competition.

His musical growth has been well fed by teachers he has sought, Ted Dunbar, Vic Juris, Ralph Bowen and Stanley Cowell. He also enjoyed masterclasses with Jim Hall.

Mike works as a sideman, composer and instructor, and as a leader of his own ensembles. The Mike Baggetta Quartet released its first album, Small Spaces, on Barcelona’s Fresh Sound New Talent label. His trio showcases originals written for guitar, bass and drums, and fresh interpretations of standards. Mike co-leads TIN/BAG with Los Angeles trumpeter Kris Tiner, which has recorded two highly acclaimed CDs and has completed multiple tours throughout the United States.

Mike's compositions got a 2009 ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award. He's worked with Tom Harrell, Bucky Pizzarelli, Ruth Brown, Conrad Herwig, Tony Reedus, Bill McHenry, Steve LaSpina, Jeff Hirshfield, Kevin Norton, George Schuller, Ralph Bowen, Christian Howes, Lukas Ligeti and has toured the Czech Republic, performed at Montreux and the East Coast Jazz Festival, and other venues throughout the world."

Photo by Peter Gannushkin /

Mary Halvorson is another compelling fret board wrestler who needs someone to come up with a useful descriptive survey of her work. I'll get to it eventually but the least I can do is point toward her for now and mention I find her duet to be another pleasing development in the creation of duets. This one matches timbres of viola and guitar and is a further example of the first rate, less is more austerity employed by the Tiner/Baggetta venture.

Again, I've done a puckish tweak of her basic site bio. Note to Mary: Jeeze ,we really need to see some useful description from writers so you can upgrade the quotes..yikes. Also see note to Mike.

Ms Halvorson landed in New York in 2002 after jazz studies at Wesleyan University and the New School. In addition to her trio, she co-leads a chamber music duo with violist Jessica Pavone and the avant-rock band, People, with drummer Kevin Shea.

A veteran of Anthony Braxton ensembles, she works with Tim Berne, Taylor Ho Bynum, Trevor Dunn, Tomas Fujiwara, Curtis Hasselbring, Tony Malaby, Nicole Mitchell, Jason Moran, Matana Roberts, Elliott Sharp, John Tchicai and Matthew Welch thus far.

Mary teaches guitar and composition lessons for students of all ages and skill levels in Brooklyn, New York. She has taught students through the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, workshops at the School for Improvised Music (SIM), and private lessons for both adults and children.

The success of her trio’s debut, Dragon’s Head (Firehouse 12 Records),in 2008 led critics to accuse Ms. Halvorson of being original and striking in various embarrassing ways that recall a pooches leg hump. It's hard to fault em though it would be nice to see em keep it in their sneakers and actually describe her work. The Pudgy Dunce did his odd circular pitch letting us know about critical acclaim as a benchmark in the herd mentality of the posse. Mere merit won't do.

Eric Hofbauer is my third victim for extolling. Unlike, his colleague's above, he still soldiers on in the arid environment of Boston and has done a lot of work to make grassroots institutions. His American Vanity solo sounds like my kind of project and with luck I'll get to give it a listen.

Note to Eric: I like the way your bio focuses on aspirations and outlook on community building. It also seems to get the scribblers better focused.

Stuck in Boston since 1997, Eric has exemplified the oft-mentioned DIY ethic for the past decade, collaborating with many of the city’s most prominent jazz musicians as both an award-winning performer and a purveyor of concert series and recordings under the auspices of his record label, Creative Nation Music. He teaches jazz guitar and jazz history at Emerson College and The University of Rhode Island.

He gained widespread attention as a guitarist through the response to his 2004 release, American Vanity (Creative Nation Music), which explored what he called “the many faces of hubris in American culture” through the distinctive solo guitar recasting of material ranging from “Old Man River” to Waylon Jennings’ theme song for The Dukes of Hazzard to the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” to the ubiquitous 80’s pop hit “Take On Me” among many others.

Critics handed it a bit more gravitas than their shabby drooling treatment of Ms Halvorson, (a guy/chick thing from the sausage party of Pudgy Dunce criticdom?) They still deftly evaded useful description, pointing in their vague fuzzy way.

Hofbauer is also a co-leader of The Blueprint Project, as well as working duos with vocalist Rebecca Shrimpton and Garrison Fewell. Eric Hofbauer & The Infrared Band, released Myth Understanding,in June 2008.

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