We are in a period when more and more people download their music via the internet; important retailers such as Tower Records are shutting their doors; and blank CDs outsold pre-recorded CDs last year. Yet, Chris Speeda multi-instrumentalist and longtime member of New York's downtown scenehas undertaken the Herculean task of starting an independent record label with the launch of Skirl Records.
On December 15, 2006, Speed and several bands on his label came to Philadelphia for a CD release party. The evening of music was presented by the Ars Nova Workshop, which continues to be Philly's only avenue to hear avant-garde music.
Speed faces the quandary of distributing a genre of music to an audience that finds it nearly impossible to hear such sounds played live if they reside outside New York City. This obstacle is merely one of a myriad of challenges that await his new venture. Speed's tacit acknowledgement that he was stepping into a rapidly changing marketplace came when he advised audience members' "CDs were for sale at the show, or they could be downloaded at iTunes.
The night featured three bands, each playing approximately a thirty-minute set. In order, they were Trevor Dunn & Shelley Bergon, The New Mellow Edwards, and The Clarinets. In addition, Andrew D'Angelo performed one tune after releasing a diatribe against Homeland Security, expressing his outrage over the difficulties guitarist Hilmar Jensen was having obtaining a visa to perform in the United States. Jensen, from Iceland, is a member, along with D'Angelo, of the band TYFT, which records on the Skirl label.
There was a moment of levity following D'Angelo's angry rant, when he paused to remove one of his teeth and placed it in a case before starting to play. After a scorching, extended solo on alto, D'Angelo was joined on stage by Trevor Dunn on bass and Mike Pride on drums for the remainder of the tune.
The highlight of the night was the set by trombonist Curtis Hasselbring's The New Mellow Edwards. Joined by Trevor Dunn on bass, Mike Pride on drums and Speed on reeds, Hasselbring played several selections from his debut release. The compositions were dense, complex pieces, containing unique patterns that shifted between Mingus-like charts and raw, frenetically paced rock blasts. As inharmonious as this mix may sound, it all came together beautifully.
In fact, the set sounded so good, I'm encouraged to download the CD to my iPod. It may be an uphill struggle, but Chris Speed is off to a running start.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.