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A FEW THOUGHTS ON JAZZ & COMPETITION 

To my ears, “Jazz Competition” is an oxymoron. 

We’re going to have a contest to see who can be the most vulnerable? The most sensitive or sincere? 

To find out who among us can best lay bare our soul and play from the heart?

Every year on tour I hear dozens of excellent high school groups, all over the country, investing hours of rehearsal time, polishing the same Duke Ellington charts in preparation for the annual Jazz Hunger Games. 

While it’s gratifying to witness Duke’s music being disseminated so widely, I wonder if these young musicians might be better off exploring a larger repertoire of sounds and styles, learning to sight read, listen and improvise.

Of course, there is such a thing as “healthy competition” in the arts. Setting challenges and overcoming them is how we improve.

Competitive, however, is not the correct mindset for quality music-making. This art form is interactive. It’s about listening and openness. Conversation, not competition. ​


Personally, I don’t feel that I’m in competition with other artists. I’m competing with Netflix, spectator sports, video games, social media and all the other distractions that vie for your leisure time, attention and dollars. 

I welcome opportunities to work alongside and learn from my betters. I always try to surround myself with talents greater than my own. Art Farmer said “if you’re the smartest cat in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” 

One time Nicholas Payton dropped by my gig in San Francisco and schooled me on a ballad. It was like a ten-minute graduate seminar on understatement and grace. 

This week I had the opportunity to participate in a tribute to one of my longtime heroes, Tom Harrell, along with Joe Lovano, Kenny Werner, Sean Jones, Johnathan Blake, and several other world class musicians, including the man himself, who has never sounded better. 

Everyone involved was more capable and experienced than I. It was humbling but thrilling. I learned a lot and felt nothing but love and support in the room. There was no vibe. Everyone was there for Mr. Harrell.

Wynton Marsalis says a cutting session is like a debate. And debates have their place, especially in the classroom. But wouldn’t you really rather have a conversation? 

Personally, I think cutting sessions are a drag. Everyone posturing, posing, showing off, going for house. The atmosphere of a cutting session is like a Michael Bay movie full of explosions. I usually end up resenting the audience for enjoying such tripe. 

Here’s a challenge: let’s play lower, softer, slower -- with intensity.

Let’s play more soulfully. 

Let’s just play.

Q2 PROGRESS REPORT | 2015 RESOLUTIONS 

Practice Art Farmer improv method religiously.

Q1—I've been inconsistent in my practice. Will recommit.

Q2 — Doing a little better with this. Teaching helps.


Finish writing Jazz Noir material for 2016 recording.

Q1—Wrote 3 new charts. 2 are keepers. More to come.

Q2 — Now have more than enough material and ready to record.


Create and learn fresh DMG sets: 11 tunes, 2 original.

Q1—Done!

Q2 — Focused on next season’s material now.


Pay health insurance first every month, no matter what

Q1—So far, so good!

Q2 — Ditto.


Walk or swim daily. Lose 5 pounds monthly, 60 by year-end.

Q1— Down 16 pounds since Jan 1.

Q2 — Cut 36 pounds since Jan 1.


Increase number of workshops nationally from 54 to 100.

Q1—Way behind; only 23 booked so far. Redoubling my efforts.

Q2 — Some progress; 39 booked. Still at it.


Increase touring income by 20% while playing 20 fewer shows.

Q1—Results are mixed: so far I'm working more but making less. 
Net income YTD is 43% greater than in Q1 2014, but 40% short of goal,
and per gig average is only 88% of 2014 levels.

Q2 — Still working more, making less...


Bump per gig average by 5% and increase total net income by 27%.

Q1—Not looking good (see above). Imperative that we book considerably more workshops this fall.

Q2 — Ditto.


Eschew cynicism, laugh often and see the best in people.

Q1—They don't make it easy but I'm mostly grateful and happy.

Q2 — Life is good.


When the time is right, get a dog!

Q1—Not yet...

Q2 — Soon!