She Blinded Me With Free Jazz???

by Jason on July 20, 2010 · 3 comments

in Bands, Gigs

Playing Beth Fleenor's "Movement Exercise #1" with blindfolds on!

Playing Beth Fleenor's 'Movement Exercise No. 1' with blindfolds! Photo by Jim Levitt

This past Saturday I had the pleasure of playing with the Seattle Jazz Composers Ensemble at a wonderful festival in Seattle called Sounds Outside. The festival is in its fifth year and is presented by the Monktail Creative Music Concern, “a collective of composers, musicians and artists based in Seattle, WA who thrive o­n the atypical and exigent; the real weirdo stuff.” Their mission is “to provide, propagate, promote, produce and preserve creative/experimental/exploratory music and associated art forms in its community through public performance, public and private educational forums, broadcasts, musical and visual recordings, and any other means of documentation appropriate and/or available at any time.”

The festival lives up to this mission in every way! Presented in a public park near the heart of Seattle, it is free an open to anyone who would like to come, including the passersby who just happen to be in the vicinity and have to stop to see what all the fuss is about. On the bill with us were three great Seattle bands, Non Grata, Zubatto Syndicate and Wayne Horvitz’s Sonny Clark Memorial Sextet, as well as Brooklyn’s Father Figures. The music covered serious ground, from free improvised party music to modern improvisational jazz to swingin’ hard bop to rock-inspired big and small band jazz.

How's this for a chart???

How's this for a chart???

The photo taken above was during our first piece, Beth Fleenor’s “Movement Exercise No. 1”. Beth brought in the chart, pictured here, and told us she wanted us to wear blindfolds during the performance! Our first rehearsal was done with us just closing our eyes, without the blindfolds, and the piece was cool. But when we added the blindfolds it was amazing what happened! It took on a focus and a drive that was lacking on the first run-throughs. Our bass player Nate Omdal commented that at first we had to concentrate on keeping our eyes closed, which took focus away from listening, which was the whole point of the piece. Once we had the blindfolds on and didn’t need to worry about our eyes anymore our ears opened up and magic ensued!

This is what I love about this band: the fearlessness of the composers and performers. Everyone involved is up for anything. It’s very different than the kind of playing I normally do and has opened my ears to whole new ways of improvising. The SCJE just got it’s non-profit status and will be busy in the next year creating music and opportunities to present that music to the public. Stay tuned!

The entire day was filmed by 911 Media Arts and should be available on their website soon. In the meantime, here’s a video of the Monktail cats getting a grand piano to the park for the festival, with a performance of Thelonious Monk’s “Pannonica” at the end:

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Camden Hughes | Learn Jazz Standards July 20, 2010 at 6:01 pm

I love the blindfold idea! In addition to putting on a memorable show, it also would force you to heighten your sense of hearing. Very cool!

Scott Hughes July 24, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Oh man, this is great! I really like the notation for chart– reminds me of Anthony Braxton’s scores. I’ll bet you had a blast playing it.

Federico Antin
Twitter: euskirmusic
July 27, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Hello Jason:
Interesting article, specially because I believe is a refreshing perspective about the wonders of improvisation in music.
Best wishes, as always,

Federico (aka euskir)

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