In 2003 I had just completed writing and arranging a group of tunes for the CD, “The Game’s Afoot!” Prior to that I had attended the IBMA in Louisville where I met the incredible be-bop 5-string banjo player, Pat Cloud, and the fabulous jazz mandolinist, Don Stiernberg. We jammed together at one of the trade show booths and ended up in one of the open rooms playing until the “wee hours”. What a blast!! We knew then that we had to keep it going and get into a studio.
Kool Kitsch is one of the tunes from the CD and I think that it is a wonderful representation of the music this group can make.
Completing the group is the perfect rhythm section of Brian Glassman on bass and Steve Holloway on drums.
Here is an interesting fact about this track that I still find hard to believe. Because of scheduling problems, Steve could not make the Kool Kitsch session. He actually came in later and overdubbed the entire drum track in one take! I am amazed every time I listen to Steve’s groove on Kool Kitsch.
The engineer was the super talented, Bob Harris. Bob and I have worked together on multiple projects and it is always a rewarding high level experience.
David “Dawg” Grisman and I have had a friendship and musical collaboration that began back in the “folk boom” years of the late 60’s. I had been a fan of David’s and we actually met “on the gig” at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village! Since then we have shared notes both written and played.
I was there at the beginnings of Dawg Music, writing, scoring, playing, and coaching. Since then we have worked together on various projects; among them, Mondo Mando, Dawg Jazz, Back to Back, King of the Gypsies, and Dawg ’90.
When David contacted me about working together again in notating his compositions in “The Book of the Dawg” I enthusiastically got to work.
The result (so far) is 3 volumes; “Dawg Roots”, “Dawg Grass”, and “Dawg Jazz”. These are the definitive notations of David’s compositions in both standard notation and tablature.
Each book also contains some wonderful “collector’s item” photos as well as stories and memories behind each tune. They are something you can be proud to have in your music library. I certainly am!
Welcome to a new feature of John’s Blog, podcasts from “The Vault“, audio/video programs comprised of selections from my personal iTunes collection. This first episode contains a sample tune, “Blues al Dente”, from my CD, “The Game’s Afoot!” and features Don Stiernberg, Pat Cloud, Brian Glassman, and Steve Holloway.
Then special guest, David Grisman, joins me on a phone interview produced by bluegrass radio host, Carol Beaugard. David offers some essential acoustic music history and memories. I think you’re all going to enjoy hearing about the roots of “Dawg Music” and the DGQ. That’s followed by a track from the Grammy-nominated CD, “Dawg ’90“.
The program winds up with a solo guitar piece, “River Sound“, dedicated to the memory of my friend, Nashville mandolinist/producer, Butch Baldasarri.
I hope you all enjoy this first episode from “The Vault”!
The incredible classical mandolinist,Carlo Aonzo, and I have been friends for many years. We had played a few of the wonderful Bach Inventions and at some point we decided to record all 15 of them. What a project!
Here is a sample, Invention #13.
Carlo lives in Savona, Italy, so we had to prepare the manuscript and rehearse via the internet and some Skype phone sessions. Finally, Carlo was here in NJ for a while and we were fortunate to get the talented Bob Harris to engineer the project. Once it was finished and mastered, the Hal Leonard company expressed interest in doing a book. We are happy to say that the book is now available and provides a download code for the audio, so anyone can enjoy playing this fantastic music!
I met William Leavitt in 1969. I had just completed 4 years of active duty in the US Navy as a guitarist in the Navy Show Band. My ambition then was to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston thanks to the GI Bill. Due to timing and circumstances I spent a year in Boston getting settled, finding a job and a place to live, etc.
The former guitarist with the Navy Show Band was Charlie Encinosa, an incredible musician with naturally fast hands that literally “ate up” the fingerboard. We had been friends in the Navy and it had been through his encouragement that I auditioned and replaced him in the Show Band. Actually, it took two of us to replace Charlie: myself and another great musician/guitarist, Jerry Boyd.
But that’s another story!
When I arrived in Boston, Charlie and I re-united. He was about 6 semesters into Berklee and knowing how anxious I was to begin my studies, he graciously offered to introduce me to Bill Leavitt.
Here is a brief description of Bill’s career.
Bill Leavitt was a student of musicologist, Joseph Schillinger, who founded the Schillinger House in Boston. Another of Schillinger’s students, Lawrence Berk, eventually purchased the school, which then became the Berklee School of Music, now the Berklee College of Music.
After a successful career as a guitarist/arranger in radio and performance mediums, Bill went on to become Chairman of the Guitar Department at Berklee. He authored the 3-volume work, “A Modern Method for Guitar”, a thorough college-level course in mastering the guitar fingerboard. It was during his tenure as Chairman that I met and studied with Bill.
The photo included here is one I took of Bill. I think it expresses his everyday attitude, always enthusiastic, not only about his life’s work but about YOU! He listened and counseled. He always knew exactly what to say and how to say it.
At our first meeting in Bill’s office at Berklee, he listened as I explained my situation, then he offered to give me a weekly private lesson. I wasn’t even a student! And here was Bill Leavitt, Chairman of the Guitar Department, being so kind as to offer me guitar lessons. We started working on Volume I that day. Thus began a four year adventure of studying the guitar (and in a broader sense, music) with Bill Leavitt.
Bill was on a mission at Berklee: to turn out competent professional guitarists into the musical world. That meant being able to sight read and to know that fingerboard. That is an entirely different thing than being a great jazz player/improvisor. Bill Leavitt was successful in a world where “they” put the music in front of you and you played it. Period. If you couldn’t read the part it was, “NEXT!” Frankly, some students got it, and some didn’t, but Bill never wavered from his position. And he was an inspired instructor!
A Lesson with Bill Leavitt
After I became an official Berklee student I would show up for my weekly lesson, knock on Bill’s office door, and he would buzz me in. He’d give me an enthusiastic, “Hello, John! How’s everything going?” Then I would brief him on events at school or maybe on a gig the night before. I’d get my guitar out and sit in a chair directly opposite him, just as you see in the photo! I’d open “the book” and we’d start in. Berklee had specific requirements for each semester and we’d work on 3 or 4 of them in a focused ½ hour lesson. I might struggle through a reading example, trying to read something up around the 10th fret or so. I’d stare at a note and almost commit to playing it. Suddenly Bill would laugh out loud and point to my shaking finger!
“Look!” he’d exhort, “Your finger knows exactly where the note is, but it’s afraid it might be the wrong note! Go ahead! It’s the right note!!” Then we would both laugh, and within that laughter would be the solution of another tiny piece of the guitar fingerboard puzzle.
See that blackboard behind him? If I had a question about, say, a particular chord voicing, Bill would put his guitar on the stand, get on his feet, and hold forth at that blackboard. With the competence and clarity that comes only from a master, he would illustrate the chord voicing, analyzing each note as to its function in the chord, and pointing to a broad range of usages and inversions.
Bill Leavitt “wrote the book” on going above and beyond.
If I had a question or an issue at a time when I had no appointment, he’d buzz me in even if he was busy with another student. “Hi John. Get back to me in 20 if you can.” Twenty minutes later he’d be giving me his undivided attention as I poured out a musical or even personal problem. Without fail, five minutes later I would walk out of that office with a smile on my face and a new and positive perspective.
Bill had literally hundreds of students, but somehow he was never too busy to help any of them.
I never left Bill’s office without feeling that I had just been given a wonderful gift, one that keeps on giving.
Here’s a sample from a series of 3-minute lessons on my YouTube channel. Clicking on it will bring you to the entire group. Guitarist and videographer, Bob Harris, and I had fun making 12 of these quick tip guitar lessons. Hope you enjoy!
I was born into a classical music household. My mother, Phyllis Mansfield Carlini, was a brilliant pianist, student of Harold Bauer, and on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music. My father, Luigi Carlini, was a violinist in the New York Philharmonic for 25 years. I have a lifetime love for classical music and for all of the “Great Composers”.
Classical music in all of its forms is incredible ground for interpretation through the prism of jazz arranging. This recording of my impressions of Maurice Ravel‘s master work, Bolero, was done first on score paper, and then played into Logic on my Godin ACS.
In September of ’14 we visited Alaska on a Holland America 10 day cruise. This video was shot on a Sony RX-100 II and edited in iMovie. I composed and recorded the score in Apple’s Logic X. Hope you enjoy!
In 1995 Tony Rice and I released “River Suite for 2 Guitars” (Sugar Hill). Over the years the recording has garnered countless accolades and continues to be a best seller. Now David Grisman‘s web site, “Acoustic Oasis“ has released the one and only duo concert that Tony and I ever performed together. You can get it here and listen to a few samples also.
Here is a bit of “back end” info on the original recording of River Suite. Tony and I recorded the CD in his music den using a Tascam portable DAT machine and an Audio-technica AT822 stereo mic set up on a coffee table! Tony then brought in an analog tape machine that we used to transfer the DAT recording and to do some editing. We then brought the finished product to the great Bill Wolf who did the mastering. The entire project cost nothing but the time and work we put into it!
The tunes are ones that we developed over the years of jamming together during Tony’s tenure with the David Grisman Quintet. During that time, Tony and I developed a treasured personal friendship and professional association.
There will be more to come in this blog about those special times with the original DGQ. Stay tuned!
So…we’re walking up 7th Ave, Andy Statman and I…talking music, telling stories, laughing. Andy is always so upbeat, enthusiastic, and a ball to hang out with.
And funny? Man! One minute we’re cracking up, the next we’re deep into some scoring idea.
I glanced down at a stack of newspapers, still tied together at a news stand. Something catches my eye…
“Pianist Bill Evans d…”!
Oh no! Don’t tell us that!
Tears come to our eyes. We couldn’t speak.
I am fortunate to have seen Bill Evans live at least 6 times. Once when I was going to Berklee he did a Sunday afternoon solo set “in the round” at Boston’s legendary Jazz Workshop. David Grisman and I battled an epic NYC blizzard to get to a club where Bill’s trio played to maybe 6 people. When Bill Evans played you knew that you were in the presence of genius.
I am “blogging” about Bill Evans because just this week I was looking at a magazine rack, saw the Downbeat logo, and there he was on the cover…32 years later!! Incredible!
Thankfully…we have a lifetime of recordings…and Bill Evans continues to inspire on every one of them.