Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Don Berman - July 3rd, 2011


Sharing some of what we have ASSIMILATED in our playing:

Hi everybody. First off, I am grateful for this opportunity to curate an evening at the Racer. During my time in Seattle playing music, I have never encountered a scene quite like the Racer Sessions! It reminds me of the stories of actors like Brando and Pacino, discussing their acting studio years in NYC, earlier in their illustrious careers. Evenings in a loft or creative space where actors got together to study and take turns performing and improvising in front of one another. I love the cordial and accepting atmosphere of the  Racer Sessions. Peoples’ friendship, mutual respect, and encouraging support of one another’s efforts. What a wonderful scene!

Last December I attended master guitarist, John McLaughlin’s appearance at Brechemin Auditorium on the UW campus. It was part of the Jazz Dialogues Series. The gist of his talk (as I understood it) to all the players attending was that we have to train hard in the various parameters of music, such as rhythm and harmony, etc. so that when we play we can respond spontaneously to what we are hearing and experiencing. Making music rather than “just playing notes”.

As we have all experienced, listening to one another at the Racer Cafe, there are many different aspects of music that interest each of us individually. What draws you to your instrument? What are you working on? What means the most to you? Rhythm? All the tones and sounds you can muster from your ax or voice? In depth composition? Electronics? Just “chance playing”, seeing what comes out? Austere soundscapes? Wild, frenetic jamming? All kinds of harmonies and polyphony? The possibilities are endless. And I would not venture to start a “what is music” conversation here. My goal tonight is to share some ideas on various improvisational possibilities I have considered lately. And to think about a word John McLaughlin said at his UW Jazz Dialogues appearance. He said we have to ASSIMILATE all we can about melody and rhythm, and harmony, is order to be able to make music without struggling so much. To get beyond “just playing notes” (John’s words).

Assimilate - to take in and incorporate as one’s own; absorb

Tonight will start with three pieces played by Kenny Mandell, horns and percussion; Steve Kim, bass; and myself on drums. Sharing some music of our own, from what we have so far absorbed and assimilated on our own individual musical journeys. As will everyone who comes up and plays during the evening!
Hopefully the three different piece concepts will inspire you in what you hear and play tonight.  
Piece I.         My composition “And the Elephant”. A short, atonal theme I created after thinking about the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. As you recall, several blind guys stood around the same elephant, but all described it 
in different ways, since they were each touching a different part of the elephant’s body. Similarly, after the intro, and once the theme has been stated, the players all simiulataneously expand on the theme, as each “sees or feels it”, just like the blind men do in the story. The players freely improvise, but material from the stated theme can give them material to inform their playing.

Piece II,       “Establishing the Hypnotic”.  This is not a composition by any of us, but rather my memory of a term used by a great jazz improv teacher I had in college. His name is Charles Moore and he is a trumpet player and composer, originally from Detroit. He used to have to all start playing simple ideas, drones, vamps, ostinatos, etc, in an “ego-less” manner. Creating a hypnotic backdrop, or, as Charles would say,“Establishing the Hypnotic”! Then he would have one player out of the ensemble be “the ego” and play what he/she had to say, over the ego-less background being played by the rest of the groupl There is a fine line between “hypnotic” and boring!!! So that is a challenge in undertaking this improv idea! We will give it a whack and one of us will play over the other two team players’ “hypnotic”. Sometimes we just call this the Atonal Free Ballad. You get the idea
Piece III.       “The Meeting of 3 Rhythms” -  In this one we will focus on being rhythmic, as we each see it. Each player will create his own rhythmic, thematic idea on the spot and start playing it. As all 3 players state and then begin varying their individual themes, they will hear the other players’ themes as well, as the 3 interface and morph. Who knows what the result will be? Stay tuned and check it out!
After our short set, I will ask all interested players in the house to write their names and instruments on the SIGN UP SHEET. I will call random combinations of players up to the stand, so athat hopefully you will get to play with some people with whom you have never played before, or at least to play in configurations different than you more usual ones. 

So that everyone or nearly everyone gets a chance to play, I will cue the ensembles after about 6 minutes to wrap it up in the next 60 seconds. Hopefully the concepts of the evening’s 3 pieces will inspire or influence the proceedings, but in true Racer Session tradition, I will leave that to all of you guest players!
See you there! And thanks again.      Don