Go out and listen to something…

June 24, 2015

Shannon Gunn Quartet at Jazz on Jackson Place

Filed under: music — burnett @ 7:01 am

foto credit top L-R: Savannah Harris, Tom Williams, Una Stade, Christopher Baliwas

Next at Jazz on Jackson Place
Thursday, July 9, 2015 at 6:30 pm
White House Historical Association
Decatur House Museum at Lafayette Square

BT: Shannon, you are coming at the modern music world from two contrasting directions: teaching music technology in public schools yet leading a big band in which 15 musician blow into instruments or manipulate them with their hands. Let’s start with music technology. What are your students learning?

SG: I teach two levels of music tech - the first level they learn synthesizers, light recording, podcasting, and film scoring. The second level is like an introduction to audio recording class, with lessons in the sound board, physics of sound, basic electronics, and a little bit of mixing and mastering. We also talk a lot about the music industry, and how the changes affect them and what they can do about it in the future.

BT: The big band jazz orchestra is now at least 90 years old, and repertoire spans from early Ellington in the 1920’s to Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Bob Mintzer, and current arrangers working today. What is the role of your band in this broad spectrum?

SG: The mission of the Bullettes, my all female big band, is to encourage women in jazz and to give them a safe place to foster their talent and network with more established musicians. We play standard repertoire as well as our own originals and arrangements. There is a lot of hidden talent in DC, and I’m happy to help out and promote those who are writing and playing.

BT: Who do you like in the current big band arranging arena?

SG: Would you be willing to replace paragraph three with this, at some point? I’m sorry I did this in a huge rush.

I really dig all formats of large ensemble jazz music. This includes the big band tradition as well as some of the more non-traditional settings, such as vibes and adding additional instruments such as horn or tuba or electronics. At some point I’ll focus in on that for the JazzCast. Until then, I’ll listen to Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society from NY, Mace Francis Orchestra from Australia, Elliott Hughes’ music (also Australian), and our local heroes such as the Jonathan Parker Octet, Billy Wolfe and the Composers Tetra-Dectet, Reginald Cyntje’s Ensemble, and Tim Whalen’s Nonet. I had Tim Whalen’s music on rotation for about a month after I interviewed him for my podcast - I had no idea he wrote like that, and love his septet and nonet writing. Other notable arrangers and composers from the Bullettes include Leigh Pilzer, Anita Thomas, Sarah Hughes, and Jen Krupa and am looking forward to when they can put out their own large ensemble albums. I also love Alan Baylock’s arrangements and Mike Tomaro’s stuff as well. Alan and Mike have taught me everything I know about big band arranging through my participation in the National Jazz Workshop over the last 6 years.

BT: We would be remiss to not mention that Shannon Gunn and the Bullettes is an all-women orchestra, with the occasional stray male. How did that concept get started?

SG: Basically, the band started as a dream while I was in grad school at GMU. I took Leigh Pilzer out to coffee and picked her brain to see if we had the personnel here to do it. She got a bunch of her friends on board and we decided to do a recording up front to try to get some gigs. I did a Kickstarter and was able to raise the full amount ($1500). We released it at our first concert in 2011, which was through the Reunion Music Society out of the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College. Since then we’ve been heavily involved in the Washington Women in Jazz Festival as well as various venues in the area.

BT: You regularly perform with the Bohemian Caverns Monday night orchestra. How has that experience affected your current musical aspirations?

SG: The BCJO has been absolutely instrumental (pun intended) in networking and keeping up my reading and playing skills. I love that band and enjoy every minute on the bandstand.

BT: There is clearly a tighter relationship with the New York scene over the last 10 years or so. How has that affected you?

SG: With the $1 Megabus and all the bus competition that ensues, musicians can come and go pretty easily and quickly now. People are generally pretty hospitable, even with the small apartments they live in. Miki Yamanaka let me stay a couple of nights last summer and she was really helpful in introducing me to a lot of people. I am happy to call on someone from New York if I need them and show them around. A lot of cats have grown up here and then moved up there as well.

June 7, 2015

Piano Jazz at the Arts Club

Filed under: music, Piano Jazz at the Arts Club — burnett @ 10:29 am

pic pic pic pic

Piano Jazz at the Arts Club is a series of concerts at the Arts Club of Washington. (Youtube Channel)  The stated mission is:

A series of concerts focusing on innovation in modern jazz piano.
Four reigning artists perform their own compositions
celebrating a hundred years of Piano Jazz in Washington, DC.

How did this series arise?  Washington has always been a piano town, from the late 18th century forward.  President George Washington hired the Austrian composer/pianist Alexander Reinagle to teach his step-daughter, and ever since that time the piano has been in people’s homes, in hotel, museums, bars, restaurants, and libraries.   Favorite son Duke Ellington grew up and flourished in this environment, developed a repertoire, style of performance, and a band, all of which he took with him to New York City.

A recent glance at the DC piano world reveals that the hotels have slowly rid themselves of instruments, including the Four Seasons, the St. Regis, One Washington Circle, etc.  A city that had 30 piano rooms in the 1980’s is now host to a spare handful.  Recent deletions have included the Mandarin and Madison Hotels.  The manager of the Four Seasons gleefully announced to me that they were closing the piano lounge in favor of a restaurant.  “We will no longer need live music!”, he exulted.

The revitalized jazz scene has emerged without a single quality piano.  U Street, now the hottest neighborhood in Washington’s club scene, has at least 5 jazz rooms.  Three have no piano at all, one has an abominable instrument that barely functions, and one has a piano that is unmaintained, rarely tuned, with hammers as hard as rocks.

In other words, Washington is ripe for a correction of this trend, and Piano Jazz at the Arts Club has emerged to fill the void.   The Arts Club of Washington happens to possess two remarkable Steinways that have been restored.  Hence the club serves as a logical nexus for the rehabilitation of the piano as the heart of jazz performance and composition.  In its first year, 2014/15, four pianists were engaged to present their own compositions:  Allyn Johnson, Lafayette Gilchrist, Wade Beach, and Janelle Gill.  I am pleased to say that the year was a success, audiences were robust, and the series achieved its primary goal.  The 2015/16 season has been guaranteed, and will be announced shortly.

May 12, 2013

Cornelia Herrmann in Washington

Filed under: music, Vienna — burnett @ 6:48 am

left: Cornelia Herrmann; right:  Regina Flores, Prof. Noel Flores, Kiera Thompson

Viennese pianist Cornelia Herrmann performed twice in the D.C., including a recital at  the Austrian Embassy and a Mozart Concerto with the Annapolis Symphony conducted by Jose-Luis Novo, and the Toledo Symphony, conducted by Stefan Sanderling.  I decided to attend when I discovered that she had worked with Prof. Noel Flores while attending the University of Music in Vienna.  Prof. Flores passed away a year ago, May 19, 2012, and it seemed fitting to remember him with a meeting of those who knew him.

Ms. Herrmann framed the Embassy concert with the G major French Suite and the French Overture in B minor of J.S. Bach.  Schubert Impromptu’s, the Beethoven Pathetique, and a new work written for her by Christian Ehrenfellner filled the program.  The standout for me was the Bach.  Ms. Herrmann plays without mannerism, and is very direct and forceful in her approach.  The engines that Bach creates in the Courante and Gigue of the G Major are allowed to develop their own steam.  She delivers the musical goods, and I was grateful to hear the performance.   The Mozart C minor concerto had a similar approach, was unhurried, and her chamber music sensitivity especially paid off in the ensembles with winds and piano.

April 27, 2013

Guizhou University

Filed under: music, music education, travel, China Tour 12 — burnett @ 3:33 pm

The focus of this trip was the visit to Guizhou University, in Guiyang. Guiyang, located in the far southern mountains of China, sits at 3000 ft above sea level and enjoys cool breezes and very clean air year round.  The university is in a sylvan and mountainous setting.   Professor Jian Feng Wang, Dean of the School of Fine Arts, was my host.  My assistant and companion for the time at the school was the linguistics grad student, Xu Tao.  Xu Tao was a marvelous guide, and a great conversationalist on all subjects from culture, language, international affairs, and human nature.  Aside from getting me from one place to the next, he took me on a guided tour of the nearby medieval village of Qinq Yan in the nearby mountains.

The final concert included a marvelous performance of Chick Corea’s Spain  featuring the wonderful erhu soloist Ren Jie.  She understand this piece beautifully and we put it together in a single rehearsal.

Spain   Ren Jie, erhu; Burnett Thompson, piano

photo:  Guida Professor, Xu Tao, Liu Xuan, Professor Wang Jian Feng, B.T., Ren Jie

April 25, 2013

“Suite Shanghai Nights” at JZ Club

Filed under: music, travel, China Tour 12 — burnett @ 7:05 am

My visits to Shanghai inevitably focus on my latest compositions, in this case the “Suite Shanghai Nights”  collection.  I wrote this specifically with saxophonist Wilson Chen in mind.  His superb work on the Shakespeare Sonnet Song Cycle is still ringing in my ears, and I wanted to take things a step further.  Here are the videos, recorded from the April 4 performance.  Wang Bai Ling, soprano; Wilson Chen, sax; EJ Parker, bass; Chris Trczinski, drums, Burnett Thompson, composer & pianist.

Suite Shanghai Nights Part II
In a Far Away Land 在那遥远的地方:
Suite Shanghai Nights  XXX
Suite Shanghai Nights Part IV

Guizhou Ethnic University

Filed under: music, music education, travel, China Tour 12 — burnett @ 6:38 am

Many thanks to Professor Jian Feng Wang for arranging a visit to Guizhou Ethnic University in Guiyang on April 7 and 8, 2013.  The encounter included an impromptu singing and performance session with a crowd of students, and then an official concert.  Certainly the highlight of the concert was an interlude presentation by the students of a folk song in full regalia.  The university is in a beautiful setting in the wetlands bordered by sharply rising mountains on all sides.   Erhu faculty member Chen Jia and I collaborated on  良宵 by Liu Tian Hua刘天华。It is hard to explain the warm welcome I received from both students and faculty and I hope I can spend more time with them in the future.

December 10, 2012

Wuhan: CCNU and Wuhan University: the Concerts

Filed under: music, music education, travel, China Tour 11 — burnett @ 10:17 am

Back at a favorite spot, Central China Normal University, followed by a concert at Wuhan University.  The students at CCNU were absolutely fabulous, and we had the good fortune of two performances of the same program, first at CCNU, then Wuhan Univ. Listen to some outtakes:

Wang Yingtao, guzheng; Burnett Thompson, Piano临安遗恨 Leave Regrets in Lin An.

Yang Guang, dizi;Burnett Thompson, Piano 牧民新歌  Song from the Countryside

July 13, 2012

Ningbo revisited

Filed under: music, music education, travel, China Tour 10 — burnett @ 8:58 am


A reprise of the Nov. 2011 Ningbo concert took place on April 6, 2012.  Included in this concert was the debut of Zhang Dawei on double bass.  Dawei, a piano student at the university,  took the jazz class and learned the blues in 3 days, having never even touched the double bass.  With the aid of the irrepressible Tom Smith, director of the jazz program at Ningbo University, the three of us fleshed out the “Butternut Blues”.

Again the remarkable Wang Lei Lei sang two folk songs and gave an unforgettable performance of “Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup”…but in Chinese and French, likely a first for this song.  Wang Jian Qiao and I put together a fresh look at a traditional Chinese piece, Chu Yue Xiao Ge (New Year’s Song) with a visit from the Beatles “Norwegian Wood”。  We were also joined again by Song Wen Yue for “Spain” and “Jiang He Shui”.

Yunnan Folk Song
Folk Song
Darling, Je Vous A’ime Beaucoup Wang Leilei, vocal; Burnett Thompson, piano
Chu Ye Xiao Ge/Norwegian Wood  Wang Qian Bao, erhu; Burnett Thompson, piano
Jiang He Shui Song  Wen Yue, erhu;  Burnett Thompson, piano
Butternut Blues   Tom Smith, trombone; Burnett Thompson, piano; Zhang Dawei, bass

May 28, 2012

Burt Bacharach : Gershwin Award at the Library of Congress

Filed under: music — burnett @ 8:17 am

My colleague Ephriam Wolfolk and I had the good fortune to perform for a small get together at the Library of Congress on May 15, 2012.  The occasion was the Gershwin Award bestowed on Mr. Bacharach.  We had the immense pleasure to chat for awhile, specifically about the asymetrical song forms (he didn’t plan them) and his stint at Mannes College in the late forties.  He was a student of Martinu, among others, and hung out in the jazz rooms at night to hear Diz, Bird, etc.  A great life, and great training.  Anyway, I arranged his tunes so that he alone would even recognize them.  Which he did, and they were definitely a conversation starter.

Here they are, performed live.  Burnett Thompson, piano; Ephriam Wolfolk, bass.  The words of Burt Bacharach conclude the “Walk on By” mp3.

This Guy’s In Love

Walk on By

One Less Bell to Answer
Close to You

The Look of Love

November 29, 2011

Ningbo Concert: Nov 25 2011 Complete Recording

Filed under: music, China Tour 9 — burnett @ 4:53 am

Burnett Thompson and Friends in Concert
Ningbo University
November 25, 2011
*Wang Yi Ni, vocal ;  Wang Lei Lei, vocal, *Wang Jian Qiao, erhu; *Song Wen Yue, erhu; Tom Smith, trombone and Jazz Department Director; *You Peng Wei, *Zhou Yu, *Xu Ying Ying, percussion  (* students at Ningbo University) 

Listen to the entire concert:

Take 5                                          composer: Dave Brubeck                               
The Little Sack                  Wang Yi Ni, vocal; Tom Smith, Trombone; Trad Chinese melody, arr. Burnett Thompson
Er Quan Ying Yue                           Song Wen Yue, erhu; Tom Smith, Trombone;   Composer: (A Bing) Hua Yanjun
Take the A Train                             Composer: Duke Ellington
Gentle Rain                                    Wang Jian Qiao, erhu;  Tom Smith, Trombone; Composer: Luis Bonfa
Shakespeare: Sonnet 66                 Wang LeiLei, vocal; Song Wen Yue, erhu; Composer: Burnett Thompson
I’ve got it Bad and that Ain’t Good   Tom Smith, Trombone; Composer: Duke Ellington
Shakespeare: Sonnet 154               Wang LeiLei, vocal; Song Wen Yue, erhu; Composer: Burnett Thompson
Groovin’ High                                 Tom Smith, Trombone; Composer: Dizzy Gillespie
Nice Work if you can Get it               Composer: George Gershwin
Sai Ma                                           Wang Jian Qiao, erhu; Trad. Chinese melody arr. Burnett Thompson
When the Saints Go Marching          Trad. American Melody
Georgia on My Mind                         Hoagy Carmichael

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