Confirmation: The 2004 Telluride Jazz Celebration
n. 1.The act of confirming or strengthening; the act of establishing, ratifying, or sanctioning; as, the confirmation of an appointment.
Their blood is shed
In confirmation of the noblest claim.
2.That which confirms; that which gives new strength or assurance; as to a statement or belief; additional evidence; proof; convincing testimony.
Trifles light as air
Are to the jealous confirmations strong
As proofs of holy writ.
Part 1: Thoughts from the Stage
Part 2: The Journey Into Telluride
Part 3: The 2003 Flashback with Larry Coryell
Part 4: The First Night of 2004
Part 5: The Coryell Trio/Confirmation
Part 6: Karl Denson Trio
Part 7: Chris Potter Quarter
Part 8: Nightlife
Part 9: The Duo / Duo Buggin'
Part 10: Skerik and Friends
Part 11: Medeski Martin and Wood
Part 12: Closing Show, Closing Thoughts
Part 1: Thoughts from the Stage
As I looked down at my left hand on the glistening fret-board, I noticed I was shaking. I was trembling with excitement, and shaking from both my fear and nerves just the same. The backdrop was surreal, with a gondola rising up above a giant green mountain whose neighboring sky was crystal clear and glowing blue. As my mind fumbled over fragments of musical ideas I tightened my grip on the guitar and played a few changes just to get my hand to start moving. The guitar echoed out into the park, and across the street where seconds later I heard even more distant reverberations.
The stage was in the center of town, and accessible from four sides to anyone and everyone. I surveyed the anxious crowd formed by faces old and young, as the rest of the band put the finishing touch-ups on their sound. There was a moment of silence before we began, which was just enough time to calm me down, make me smile, and remind me how thankful I was to be a musician. In the crowd I spotted the friendly smiles from Skerik and Mike Dillon and the silvery, supportive glow of Larry Coryell as he walked down from the street. Babies were already dancing in the sun just in front of me, and I found serenity, just soaking in Telluride.
Part 2: The Journey Into Telluride
As the sixteen-seater "prop-plane" dips down, and rounds the bend through two enormous mountain peaks, the drop in your stomach is the immediate signal to prepare for landing. From Denver, the tiny plane is like a tourist ride over, around, and through the mountains of Colorado. From every seat on the tiny aircraft, you are able to see the single landing strip through the cockpit front window that seems to end right where the mountain ends. That is the last possibility for an uneasy moment anywhere near, in, or around Telluride, Colorado. Once you land, the town, the people, and the atmosphere are all part of a continuing arrival cushion for your comfortable stay.
Looking down the main street at the large mountains and waterfall ahead, the creative energy and anticipation in Telluride is an indescribable feeling. Just days and hours before the Jazz Celebration begins, the people of Telluride, the patrons, the music lovers, the sponsors, the staff, and the musicians are all buzzing with the same pure excitement. You can't help but feel and believe "there is no other place like this", even after just arriving.
The architecture has a rich history and unique aesthetic, as many buildings date as far back as the 1800's (even a bank robbed by Butch Cassidy). The scenery is picturesque, and the beauty is inspiring. The mountains are some of the largest in Colorado, and surround the town like a fortress. The peaks are painted by a colorful array of forests, with various rocks and stones in visible layers of sediment. You can see jeeps climbing the steep mountain walls in the distance, and parachutes gliding off of mountaintops with tiny people who get closer and closer to civilization. The gondola ride is more than a scenic adventure, but also a magnet of attraction that draws your desire to return in the winter. Yet nothing feels better than the summer sun, the cool Colorado air, and a weekend booked solid with the lineup prepared for all to enjoy. Larry Coryell himself puts it best, "There is something special in those mountains."
Part 3: The 2003 Flashback with Larry Coryell
At the 2003 Celebration, the year before, I was there with my band Licorice. At the time, we had only begun to tamper with improvisation. We were a rock band, who vamped, and "jammed", but we were not a jazz band per se. This past year, looking out at the crowd on Sunday afternoon, about to begin our "tribute set", performing our adaptations of the works of Miles Davis, I knew that trip to Telluride was our first stop on a longer journey. We had returned as a new band, with a more advanced study and more refined technique.
"It's like you really know you are meeting one of the greats, because they are just so encouraging and embracing. They are so genuine about what you are doing." said Mike Dillon as he looked up from arranging his congas. We were on stage, and he was putting together his "percussive corner" at Fly Me To The Moon Saloon in Telluride, Colorado, about to play the unofficial closing to this year's Telluride Jazz Celebration, where he was stage-hopping all weekend. We were discussing the Miles set I had played in the park, when Larry Coryell joined us to close with "All Blues". Dillon truly verbalized my reflections in meeting Coryell, while being that genuine himself. He had no idea he was in fact the prototype he had just described. I learned that, and so much more from Dillon while we played that night on stage.
I thought back to just one year before, when I was making my way through my first set at the now extinct Roma Restaurant and Bar. My band had traveled from New York to play the Telluride Jazz Raynier Institute & Foundation Elks' Park Free Stage, as well as a few night gigs at local venues. During our break, legendary jazz guitarist Larry Coryell walked in off the street, with guitar in hand. He had just arrived in Telluride for the festival, where he was to perform with his trio. The "Godfather of Fusion", and one of my personal heroes, took charge of the room with just a few glances, and quickly agreed to join our band for a bit. Within moments there was an amplifier dialed up to his preference, and an audience that had nearly doubled in size. With the coolest demeanor, the most genuine respect and kindness, and with a hand on our shoulders, Coryell pushed us. I was in awe to be making music with Larry Coryell; attempting to listen to each humbling note and inflection. It was impossible to contain my nerves, as the list of greats who stood along side Coryell ran through my mind: Hendrix, Scofield, Miles Davis, David Sanborn, Sonny Rollins, John McLaughlin, Maynard Ferguson, Stephane Grapelli, Chick Corea, Charles Mingus, etc. for starters!
As we started into our own adaptation of "In a Silent Way", he tastefully and texturally elevated our sound to a new level. He sat in a chair beside me, with a warm and powerful presence. As we played guitar side by side I became overwhelmed and tense with humility. Sensing that my playing was reserved, he looked up at me dead in the eye with a question-by-guitar, and I reacted to answer him as sharply and quickly as I could. That first moment, the first interaction, when I introduced myself to this guitar master, is a moment I will never forget. It was the perfect conversational ice-breaker, and following almost immediately was the most incredible, warming, and easing smile as he called out, "Yeah!" He was vibrant, excited, and made us groove.
The next day, during Kenny Garrett's main-stage performance at the festival, the man we now call "Uncle Larry" pulled up a chair next to mine. The way in which he embraced our quartet was as genuine. The manner in which he taught me, coached me, and encouraged me was fatherly, with a comfortable distance reserved for genuine friendship; the kind that immediate family can often mask. Amongst the younger generation at the festival, he was indeed Uncle Larry.
"Do you understand what is going on here? Can you hear what he is playing?" he whispered to me.
Though I listened to jazz regularly, though I was a studying musician, and though I was able to recognize, appreciate, and dissect the improvising, I knew I could not be true to anyone in answering "Yes". My formal training had been brief, and I had been playing guitar less than a decade. What Kenny Garrett was doing on stage that day was a mystery to me. The nearly chemical riffs; and the layered, exponential, complexities were far beyond my grasp and my knowledge.
"Not really," I answered anxiously.
"Do you know where this comes from?" he asked as a curious eyebrow rose. There was a brief moment as I tried to quickly listen and make a connection. "This all comes from Byrd, Dizz, Miles, and Coltrane. You have to learn this! " he smiled. He truly wanted me to learn it, and just then, I wanted to.
By the time The John Scofield Band was done blazing through their set, Coryell and I had plans to meet sometime in New York for a lesson. In just a few meetings that weekend, this master musician had given me so much encouragement and confidence. He was so eager to push me in the right direction, and it was so reassuring. I remembered this moment with Mike Dillon. Just this July, before the festival, Larry Coryell and I met in New York for my first Bebop lesson.
"Are you ready to work?" he asked with a devilishly excited grin as we sat down. With mechanical pencil points breaking one after the next, he proceeded to write out "Confirmation" by Charlie Parker for me to learn with him on guitar. We broke the tune down into sixteen bar sections and we grilled the chords and melody over and over. I even laughed at myself about the humorously slow tempo we sometimes had to reach. By the end of the lesson, we were able to just about get through the entire tune.
"I want you to not just learn this, but get better at understanding it, so that you can incorporate what you've learned with your own music. You are doing the fusion thing, and so Bebop is pertinent. Eventually, we're going to play this tune together. See you in Telluride!" he said to me as he proudly signed the piece of music paper that he had so gloriously written out Mr.Parker's music on...from total memory.
There was that moment of silence just before we began our set, when I realized that the 2004 Telluride Jazz Celebration (Aug 6-8, 2004) was a Jazz confirmation itself. The shared experience of hearing Coryell, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Cuchito Valdes, Chris Potter, Skerik and Mike Dillon, Marco Benevento, Joe Russo, Kurt Elling, Karl Denson, Steve Nygaard, Leon Russell, The Carribean Jazz Project, Flora Purim and Airto, etc. was part of a much greater, infinite lesson. The classroom; was Telluride.
Part 4: The First Night of 2004
On the first night of the festival, Cuchito Valdes Afro Cuban Ensemble performed at the Telluride Conference Center. The Conference Center is atop the mountain, by way of gondola, located in the heart of the ski resort's "mountain village". If you catch the gondola ride up at the right time, you can witness spectacular views of nature with postcard pictures for your memory. In the distance, you can see the Telluride Airport landing "strip" on the mountains in the distance. I was sure to catch the sun setting that evening, and a magnificent lightning storm of in the distant skies the next night. Cuchito started a bit after the scheduled time, and while waiting for the show to begin, many restless audience members pulled stacked chairs from beside the wall to sit.
As the band made their way out onto the stage over the applause, they looked out at a mostly seated audience. "You know you aren't going to be sitting in those chairs by the end of the night, don't you?" laughed Cuchito's drummer. He laughed, but he was really not joking.
Listening, and watching Cuchito perform with his band, their chops, and their rhythm, is a pure burst of energy. Their traditional afro-cuban sound is a rhythm wake-up call. His playing drives right into your chest, grabs your heart, smacks it around, and then makes it dance. For a while I stood behind Cuchito, so I was facing the keyboard as he was, and watched as he made his way all over it. It was amazing to see someone process ideas at such a rapid pace. It wasn't long before the Conference Center was on its feet. It was nearly impossible to walk away from this performance, but there was more music to catch at the very same time! I danced my way back down the mountain, beating the side of my gondola like a conga, to catch the last few tunes of Larry Coryell's performance at the Sheridan Opera House. (note: do not use the gondola as a percussive instrument when pulling into gondola stations as the staff does not like it)
Part 5: The Coryell Trio/Confirmation
There are a few times in which you are lucky enough to witness someone being genuinely unique with his/her instrument. It is difficult enough to achieve a personal style or even sound, yet to be able to play in a way that is not often seen or heard is a true testament to creativity and talent, as well being a profound and impacting connection to the audience. As I sat in front of that stage, and the harmonic melody carried over the still and silent heads in the opera house, I felt lucky to be seeing this performance. Playing with his ear nearly touching the neck of the guitar, Coryell bent each string to perfection, making us all lean in a bit closer. The music was gorgeous, sophisticated, elegant and perfect. It made me want to dig deeper; to study and learn. As Mike Dillon put it, "Being in Telluride, it just makes you want to practice." With creativity, genius, and true artistic expression all around, he was right.
"Black Orpheus", as performed by Larry Coryell, was not only the highlight of his night performance, but it now also serves as the pseudo-internal-soundtrack that runs through my mental festival review. Inside this Opera House, he commanded near acoustic perfection with a virtuosic touch. The entire room was blushing in anticipation of each note. The worldy, chordal, changes to the tune were so warm and full.
Joined by Mark Eagan on bass, and Lenny White on drums, the trio's sound was like a blanket that draped over the entire room. The trio was tight, but also provided such a giant, full sound their instrumentation. Eagan is an entire bass layer, playing electric fretless. Even Eagan's compositional contributions demonstrate a unique creativity and a masterful command of the bass, as well as pure melody. Lenny White is more than a legendary drummer. As you watch him, his sense of texture and overall musicality as a percussionist becomes your focus. After a nearly seamless acoustic solo, Coryell restates the "head" of the tune, but this time pinching harmonics off of each string with his nail. Coryell was the guest of honor for 2004, and rightfully so. His presence was commanding as a leader, spokesperson, role model and musician, and after his previous experience in Telluride, he nearly held the key to the city already. His performances were crisp, energetic, moving and memorable. He took the time to chat with fans, to mingle with other musicians, as well as coach and teach us. Sunday in the park, He even called over a wandering dog by name, as they had met the day before in town.
As the first threat of rain hovered Town Park, Coryell and his trio magically disassembled the clouds one by one, to reveal the sunshine of their sound. As the band created an electric version of "Spaces Revisited" with blistering guitar solos full of blatant Hendrix teases, it was clear that there was no longer any imminent danger of rain, nor would there be at all that weekend. The music, the experience, and the power of that shared experience, was a shining beauty itself. Perhaps that was why the final tune of Coryell's set on the main-stage was a rendition of "Confirmation" by Charlie Parker. As a surprise, he invited vibraphone master Dave Samuels to the stage, sax wiz Chris Potter, and rising guitarist Adam Rogers. They all smiled, and looked out at the eager crowd. I sat just a few rows from the stage, on the edge of my seat as they counted the tune off. I had no idea what was coming.
"That's what it sounds like!" I laughed, as they started into the head of the tune. My smile was uncontainable, as I listened to the group tear through "my lesson". My mind was excited with thought, as I tried to read through the chart Uncle Larry had written out for me that muggy July day in New York. The Charlie Parker versions I listened to echoed with each change. As he walked off, he met me with a grin and said, "Confirmation! That one was for you!"
Coryell's hand in opening the doors to "fusion" is simply a metaphor for his entire existence. Wherever he goes, he is constantly opening doors for those around him. In Telluride, he seems to have that effect on everyone, musicians and audiences alike.
Part 6: Karl Denson Trio
Sunday afternoon the weather had kept its end of the bargain. Without a cloud to be seen, Karl Denson arrived with the debut of his trio. Making my way towards the main stage, beside the San Miguel River, I heard Denson's horn from quite a distance. The trio had just started their set as the echoing saxophone bounced from mountain to mountain. I walked faster, following the sound to its origin. As the attack grew closer, the echoes changed with each step. By the time I was seated before the trio, I was entranced.
Karl Denson is funky. That is a fact. He is a tremendously soulful horn player, and with KDTU (some of his funkier outfits) he has been known to keep crowds late, and moving. With his trio, he paints with an entirely different palette. His playing was textural, etherial and delicate. The long sax lines were interwoven with very melodic bass lines as counterpoints. With Rob Thorsen on bass, and Brett Sanders on drums, the trio was striving for and achieving their own sound. The material was comprised of beauty, emotion, and a mood that demonstrated a refreshingly deeper, more composed side to Denson.
There is both beauty and clarity in frailty. A delicate touch, a wavering pitch, or even a moment of silence can sometimes evoke the most personal, intense and moving experiences within music. These are sometimes the moments of the truest expression during improvisation. This was thematic all weekend at the festival, in "Black Orpheus" with Coryell's trio, in Kurt Elling's smooth and intimate vocal performance on the mainstage, in ambient moments of Marco, Joe, Chris Potter, Flora and Airto, and of course, in Karl Denson's Trio performance.
Part 7: Chris Potter Quartet
Taking the music beyond and in a new direction was the talk of the festival, tenor player Chris Potter and his new quartet. The group performs sans bass, with Rhodes player Criag Taborn leaning on his left hand and lower register for most of the support. With Nate Smith on drums and Adam Rogers, one of the freshest talents to check out, on guitar, this group seems to bridge the gap between bop, fusion, groove, and avant-garde. They have created a sound that is entirely their own with tunes that almost cosmically arrive at some of the most moving and intense places. The ability to listen, communicate and react was all the make-up for this powerhouse group.
Adam Rogers' telecaster is more than rhythmic support as he sometimes slaps the low-E string as though it were an electric bass guitar, while simultaneously providing tasteful and creative chord voicings throughout. When approaching a solo, Rogers seems timid and reserved. After the first solo, you learn the lesson that Rogers is not at all what he seems. What he projects as shyness acts as an unintentional set-up, as he knocks you over with volcanic solos erupting with beauty and originality. Along with Potter, this quartet should never be missed.
Part 8: Nightlife
After the sun sets in Telluride, the festival takes on an entirely new persona. Charged by performance, inspired by sound, and eager to mingle, the night venues are nearly magnetic with energy. The "program" or schedule becomes merely a rough outline to be filled in over breakfast the next day. Between the Conference Center, the Nugget Theater, the Sheridan Opera House, Eagle's, and Fly Me To The Moon Saloon, mapping out the night becomes its own art. Walking from venue to venue, the music echoes out into the streets and stretches into the depths of the surrounding mountain trees .Jazz musicians are night owls by nature, and they seem to absorb and feed off of each other all night and into the early morning.
Part 9: The Duo/Duo Buggin'
Coming from New York, I'm no stranger to the late-nighter's Marco Benevento and Joe Russo, The Duo. With a downtown habit of starting late, and playing even later, Marco and Joe are a partying, musical force to be reckoned with. If anything, they make you want to re-evaluate yourself for having so little energy and such a low personal production level. Their performances are driving experiences that find their way through dark passages, and the heaviest grooves. Like a loose cannon, they are always ready to explode through peaks and adventure.
Benevento is a proficient encyclopedia of knowledge, musical whit and originality. There is little holding Marco back, as he jumps from Rhodes, to B3, to acoustic piano. Joe Russo is his rhythmic, musical other half, riding every run and crescendo beat for beat, note for note. With nearly schizophrenic compositions that change on a dime from straight be-bop to punk rock, to adapted instrumental covers of Nirvana, Led Zeppelin and Radiohead, the Duo never fails in living up to their expectations. In Telluride, they provided a contagious jolt of youth and extreme energy. Their Sunday afternoon set was a demonstration of their depth, and their growing and maturing class, mixed with the fire that makes them so special. Even for a daytime performance, their energy was mesmerizing and their sound was electric. Marco had told me later on that the leslie cabinet (rotary Hammond B3 speaker) was lacking a certain amount of bass output, which led him to rely on the Rhodes (like Potter's Craig Taborn) for much of the low end. The sound he created with overdrive and distortion wailed with feedback, like a Hendrix crying electric guitar excursion. On stage The Duo commands and deserves the respect that audiences and participating musicians walk away with alike. Then, Marco and Joe exploded into the night.
Once you are past the stage of acceptance that they are musically and mystically glued to each other, it seems more than perfectly logical that they thought to add Skerik and Mike Dillon to the mix. This quartet, "Duo Buggin'", is an eight-armed, eight-legged sound factory with potential for combustion and random explosions. They are an overflowing personality party that plays some of the most in your face, electronic, improvisational music. Masters of feedback, rhythm, melody, electronics and sound, they were all just sweating it out at Fly Me To the Moon while crowds gathered in every crevice of the club, even the rear door as it opened up onto the stage itself. There was room for us all, and room enough for their insanity and creative exploration. The four seem to be having more fun than anyone while performing, as they lock in just seconds after the first note is played.
Part 10: Skerik and Friends/Hairy Apes BMX
The musical contrasts in the festival are what provide for the energy to keep up with it all. Seeing a straight ahead set in the afternoon, and then venturing to sweat and rage at Hairy Apes BMX show until the morning, is the perfect spark that starts you going, and that fuel that keeps you from missing one note . It is also being able to draw the similarities from these worlds, as they reach in and grab things from each other. The festival is growing "out" as well, and musical boundaries have become more spacious and less defined. The roots are the same, the principles are the same, the arts are the same, but the methods are now unconventional.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the generational hill. Children of the 70's wish they had the flower power, summer of love and revolutionary freedoms of the 60's. Children of the 80's wish they had the free spirited, disco shaking, side burns of the 70's. The 90's babies wish they were part of the 80's cheese spectacular, with teased hair, belts in the middle of shirts, and the electric keyboard-guitar. We await the demands of the new era. Sometimes the scales shift with musicians, who favor a certain era based on the music that was produced then. When I walked back into the Sheridan Opera house on Saturday night August, 7, 2004, the greatest of generational worlds had collided musically.
Medeski, Martin and Wood, Skerik, Mike Dillon and Larry Coryell all engaged in a giant grooving, "ripping" conversation. As I walked into the room, I felt as though I was walking into a "meeting of the minds". I could almost relate to Luke Skywalker, walking in on Vader and Obi-wan Kenobi in the midst of a fierce Jedi battle. There was only so much I could absorb at once, as the depths and layers behind what I had heard, was and still is something that will continue to unfold throughout this lifetime. Coryell had sweat on his brow, and his guitar had a distorted crunch that I had only heard on earlier fusion albums. There was a strong presence in "the force", and I felt it. The show was in Skerik's name, "Skerik and Friends", and he acted and psycho-pseudo-conductor for the set. Once Adam Rogers and Chris Potter arrived, the youthful audience seemed ready for the roof itself to lift-off. The interplay was electrifying and explosive. The rhythm and grooves were deep, while Medeski, Coryell, Potter, Rogers and Skerik shrieked and toyed with one another.
The crowd stood in awe for minutes as the lights came on in the theater. Strangers looked at each other in the eyes and shook their head with a nod of delight and shrug of "What just happened?" I bumped into Uncle Larry near the theater's entrance where he leaned on my shoulder and said, "That was your stuff! Whooo! Like putting on an old shoe!" I laughed and smiled in admiration and appreciation for his connection and encouragement, but the music I heard was really "their stuff". It was surely my taste, and it was music that I would love to achieve, but with Medeski, Martin and Wood as a core, this performance was masterful music for a "jellyfish" soul. It has no form, no rigid expectations or boundaries. It just moved, and makes you move.
Part 11: Medeski Martin and Wood
During their performance that night, and on the main stage, I thought about how there was really something to be said for seeing Medeski, Martin and Wood many times. It may even be a maturity factor that allows you to get to the real core of "the chaos". It just may be an acquired taste that gets better with understanding. On the contrary, it is not to say that it is not simple to get turned on to MMW. Oddly enough, it is almost impossible not to.
Medeski is the Jimi Hendrix of the electric keyboard, stretching the soundscape far beyond its current range. He acts like a mad scientist, watching over his creation, as he furiously and energetically utilizes synthesizers, amplifiers, effects processors, samplers, (breath), and of course his Hammond, Rhodes, Clavinet and Piano. Multi-tasking at all times, and operating every limb and thought independently, he lays down grooves, licks, and epic solos that overflow with authenticity. Since the group's inception, Chris Wood has emerged as one of the most cohesive and complementary bassists, as he can support any decision, and any direction as though it were all seamlessly rehearsed. And of course, Billy Martin has defined his own style as a percussive master. His effect on music has been contagious, as almost every drummer after Martin has taken or learned something from him. Even those before him stand to learn something from his ways. There are not enough reviews for a group like Medeski, Martin and Wood, nor enough words. After all that stands, this groups tears down conventional thought and invisible boundaries with every performance. Their arrival at this year's Jazz Celebration was a welcomed one, and was surely fitting with such a roster.
Part 12: Closing Show, Closing Thoughts
Just one night after the official closing to the festival, we (Licorice) had the distinct honor of playing the "last" show. Monday night, after three straight days and nights with some of the world's greatest musicians, we played Fly Me To The Moon. This time, Mike Dillon joined us for the night on Vibes and Percussion. From that stage, my perspective was so simplified. The music we created was fueled by inspiration. "Confirmation" was just a stepping stone, and Telluride was a giant step. We played for over three straight hours. It was music that emerged from the most sincere excitement, enjoyment, and respect for our influences. I knew that I had truly met one of the greats.
After my second year at the Telluride Jazz Celebration, I truly understood "it", a Confirmation. My time in this authentic Colorado mountain town has become more than weekends of music, but experiences that truly resonate. As I listened to drummer Lenny White eloquently speak about the world, his hope for the future of music and for jazz itself during the Sunday morning panel discussion, I was struck by the fact that his passion, even as a musician, was no more than the passion in the patrons, the festival crew, and the fans and supporters. Many of them stood up to voice their thoughts, opinions, and affections with White, Coryell and others during the discussion. Each person and vision represented a reaffirmation of purity and unity. They bred creativity and energy, which is essential for a functioning festival. Everyone felt it and expressed it, and in turn thrived off of it. That seems to be the essence of every Telluride Jazz Celebration, as it continues to grow as one of the most intimate and spectacular events in the country.
Visit the Telluride Jazz Festival on the web at www.telluridejazz.com .
This article was provided courtesy of www.jambase.com .