In the tradition of my inimitable friend, Brennan Johns, I thought it would be wise to do a 2018 retrospective.
I wanna say everything was stellar throughout. Certainly, my resume got thicker and richer.
I got a chance to play with Adam Shead's Adiaphora Orchestra at the Empty Bottle, and a new trio named Boomerang (Carroll/Steussi/Riggen) did a full night at The Whistler. At Slate Arts, there was a night of improvisers I curated named 'Ouija Board' that went off exactly as I thought it would--that is to say, well. In the spring and late winter, I was able to present my big band material in public through the Sean Imboden Large Ensemble, a call I am always happy to receive. There was an Easter gig I didn't anticipate happening (being as new as I am), and Tommy Carroll's Calculated Discomfort project that I'm a part of released a record in the fall.
Speaking of Tommy Carroll, it's been my pleasure to turn his tunes into well-engraved lead sheets. To my estimation it's really helped us out as we play together, and I've been able to engrave a few other friends' tunes as well. I really like being able to put other people's ideas into a cogent page or two of written notation, so they can then more readily have the people they want play their music.
I've been learning more about composition myself at the BMI Workshop in NYC. This will be my second consecutive year attending and it's always been helpful to suss out my ideas in a room full of peers. I anticipate that by the time we're done in May, I'll have generated a second set of large ensemble material to compliment the first from last year. Now all I need to do is become independently wealthy and resurrect the general public interest in big bands, and I can conduct full time. Easy enough.
Composition takes a different turn with Chervony|Riggen. Our loose, AACM-writ-in-motion style has been drawing a lot of attention to itself as we barrel through the Chicago circus scene. We completed the first suite of our work ('Buried Reflexes') in August, but frankly have been too busy with one-offs and short commissioned shows to sit down and watch it through. The video document should be released in 2019. No promises.
My position at Marquette Park continues to surprise me. Through the summer and into the winter, we were able to rehearse a small group of children that quite recently performed 'Freddie Freeloader' and 'Flamenco Sketches' to the rapturous applause of their families. I'm happy to report that they will be taking my gigs in 20 years if they keep growing and developing at this rate--we've been able to even add another group to the band program. In the spring, I plan on one group doing Monk's music and the other doing J Dilla's. In the summer, I anticipate being more ready to work with the kids who come in, most of whom don't know exactly what I do and so fail to be excited about it. Probably the first thing I will do is try to get them excited about what it's possible to do in music, most readily through my personal perspective.
Despite trying to get the kids excited--I must confess to a certain feeling of melancholy.
Besides sobering and saddening waves being sent through the small corner of the Chicago jazz scene I occupy most often, alongside similar waves reaching me through news from friends at home and abroad, there was a certain lack of energy or feeling of a 'grind' that tended to characterize the year. Despite making more than enough money through gigging, teaching, and directing, there was always a grim feeling to the day. Taking a cat into my care (Cousteau) certainly helped, but the tenor of the emotion was deeper than even cuddling a chunky house panther could ameliorate.
However, it naturally came up that I was able to share my prior work as a leader with some friends, including some albums I made in 2016 but was too ill to release at the time. Boomerang does some of those old groups' tunes, a new duo I'm in will explore others. That made me feel better, and kind of put in my mind that perhaps I'd done enough waiting on allowing my roots to spread here before adventuring out as a leader again.
I have a spreadsheet--I always have a spreadsheet, now--of groups of musicians I've met who I think will sound good playing my music. Some groups will sound good playing some material, while other compositions will play best with other people, each according to their interests and abilities. With the connections I've made as a sideman in the city, I'd like to reach out and figure where to present this work again. And with the connections I have at the park, I should have more than enough physical space to rehearse these groups.
I'm even releasing some of the music I made when I was too sick to promote it back in 2016. Think of it as new old stock. The recordings certainly hold up.
Thinking of being able to play my work out in public more makes me happy, especially if I can also keep my practice going at the park. One will feed the other, as it always has. And perhaps I can move through 2019 not only surviving, but thriving.