9.22.12 Laurence Hobgood + Ernie Watts + Hamilton Price + Dan Schnelle Quartet
Best known for his collaboration with vocalist Kurt Elling, multiple Grammy nominee and 2010 Grammy winner Laurence Hobgood has enjoyed a multi-faceted and dynamic career. Musical director for Elling since 1995 he’s played on, composed/arranged for and co-produced all of Elling’s CDs (6 for Blue Note and 3 for Concord), each Grammy- nominated. 2009’s “Dedicated To You: Kurt Elling Sings The Music Of Coltrane and Hartman”, recorded live at Lincoln Center, won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Vocal Jazz Record.
Hobgood was awarded three consecutive fellowships (‘90, ’91, ’92) to perform in the Aspen Music Festival. The Chicago Tribune honored him as a 1995 Chicagoan Of The Year in the Arts. In 2003 he received a Deems Taylor Award, given by ASCAP for the year’s outstanding music journalism, for his article, “The Art Of The Trio”, published by JazzTimes magazine.
He has performed both with Elling and with his own trio at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, Chicago’s Symphony Center and Ravinia, Sydney Opera House, London’s Barbican and Queen Elizabeth Halls, as well as the world’s most prestigious jazz festivals including Montreaux, North Sea, Monterey, Spoleto USA, Newport, Umbria, Montreal, JVC festivals in Paris and Japan and many others. Elling and Hobgood also appeared at the 2009 State Dinner given at the White House where President Obama welcomed India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
He has played and/or recorded with Larry Coryell, Lee Konitz, John Pattitucci, Jon Hendricks, Regina Carter, Stefon Harris, Richard Galliano, Christian McBride, Terreon Gully, John Pizzarelli, Terrence Blanchard, Bob Sheppard, Ernie Watts, Marc Johnson, Joe Lovano, Benny Maupin, Paul Wertico, Bobby Watson, Clark Terry, Kurt Rosenwinkle, Anat Cohen, Bob Mintzer, Mark Murphy, Von Freeman, Peter Erskine, Paul McCandless, Gary Burton and Eddie Daniels, to name a few.
His latest solo CD, “When The Heart Dances”, a duet recording with iconic bassist Charlie Haden, has received worldwide critical acclaim, garnering 4-star reviews from Down Beat and the UK’s Mojo magazine among others.
Hobgood’s latest project, POEMJAZZ, is an adventurous collaboration with poet Robert Pinsky, the only three-term U.S. Poet Laureate. The POEMJAZZ CD was released in February of 2012; it features Pinsky’s energetic readings of his poems with an emphasis on musical phrasing–rather than dramatic–coupled with Hobgood’s engaging, thematic improvised accompaniment, played live in studio simultaneous with the distinguished poet’s recitations.
A long time Chicago native, Hobgood moved to New York in 2006 and now lives on the south shore of Long Island.
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“He is one of the greatest living tenor saxophonists, at the top of his game.”
- Ian Patterson / All About Jazz
Two-time Grammy Award winner Ernie Watts is one of the most versatile and prolific saxophone players in music. It has been more than fifty years since he first picked up a saxophone, and from age sixteen on he has been playing professionally, initially while still attending school. Watts has been featured on over 500 recordings by artists ranging from Cannonball Adderley to Frank Zappa, always exhibiting his unforgettable trademark sound.
After 15 albums as a leader, for a variety of labels large and small, Watts started Flying Dolphin Records in 2004, in partnership with his wife Patricia. Flying Dolphin (distributed by City Hall Records in the US and Laika Records in Germany) is a new chapter for the artist’s creative expression. “Through my years of studio work, touring, and recording,” he says, “I’ve played in every kind of musical setting. I’ve reached a place in my life where I need to make music on my terms. Starting my own label provided me with a new sense of freedom.”
The most recent way this freedom is expressed is through Flying Dolphin’s newest release, Oasis (2011). For Ernie Watts, music has been an oasis his whole life, an oasis both wide and deep. This album contains music from many sources; three compositions from Watts, one each from Christof Saenger and Heinrich Koebberling of the Ernie Watts Quartet, “Shaw Nuff,” a bebop classic from Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, one ballad from Johnny Mandel and another from Joe Sample. Lennon/McCartney’s “Blackbird” appears, and Ernie’s major inspiration John Coltrane is represented by “Crescent.”
Other releases in the Flying Dolphin catalog include Four plus Four (2009), a studio project with both the US and European Ernie Watts Quartets, recorded in Los Angeles and Cologne, Germany, including “Through My Window,” a Watts original written to showcase both quartets together. To The Point (2007) was made live with the Ernie Watts Quartet at The Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles. Analog Man (2006) is winner of the Independent Music Award for Best Jazz Album of 2007, with his European Quartet, touring together since 1999. Spirit Song (2005) was Watts’ first studio recording as a leader since the release of Classic Moods (JVC) in 1999. Watts used a handmade cedar Spirit Flute to introduce the title track, creating the haunting folk melody which is then reprised on tenor. Flying Dolphin’s first release ALIVE (2004) was recorded live at the Backstage in Fulda, Germany. The chance to hear Watts at immediate heat in the midst of his own music had only been available before to his concert audiences. To The Point and ALIVE both vividly capture that live experience, once with each quartet.
Watts started playing saxophone at age 13 in Wilmington, Delaware. He went with a friend who was joining the local school music program, and found himself carrying home an instrument too. “I was a self-starter; no one ever had to tell me to practice,” remembers Watts. His discipline combined with natural talent began to shape his life. He won a scholarship to the Wilmington Music School where he studied classical music and technique. Though they had no jazz program, his mother provided the spark by giving him his own record player plus a record club membership, for Christmas. That first record club promotional selection turned out to be the brand-new Miles Davis album Kind of Blue. “When I first heard John Coltrane play, it was like someone put my hand into a light socket,” Watts says. He started to learn jazz by ear, often falling asleep at night listening to a stack of Coltrane records. Although he would enroll briefly at West Chester University in music education, he soon won a Downbeat Scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, renowned for jazz.
When Gene Quill quit Buddy Rich’s Big Band in Boston, trombonist Phil Wilson (a professor at Berklee), was asked to recommend a student as temporary replacement. A young Ernie Watts was referred, and left Berklee for that important spot. The “student temporary” stayed with Rich from 1966-1968 and toured the world, also recording two albums with the band—Big Swing Face and The New One. Ernie says now, “I guess I got the job,” and laughs.
Next, Watts moved to Los Angeles and began working in the big bands of Gerald Wilson and Oliver Nelson. With the Nelson band, Watts visited Africa on a U.S. State Department tour in 1969. They played in Chad, Niger, Mali, Senegal, and the Republic of the Congo, which included the opportunity to meet and jam with the local African musicians. Remembering the experience, Watts recalls Africa as “a timeless land.” “It was amazing to play a government-sponsored concert in the evening, then take a walk the next morning and see a camel caravan coming in from the desert, laden with giant salt blocks. That had been happening for thousands of years! Walking out into the desert at night, I felt the tremendous quiet there, something I had never experienced before, or since.” It was also with Oliver Nelson that Watts had the occasion to record with the legendary Thelonious Monk on Monk’s Blues (Columbia).
During the 1970s and ‘80s, Watts was immersed in the busy production scene of Los Angeles. His signature sound was heard on countless TV shows and movie scores, almost all the early West Coast Motown sessions, and with pop stars such as Aretha Franklin and Steely Dan. Though the pop music genre placed narrow confines on his performance, the studio sessions allowed Watts the chance to constantly hone and refine his tone. After years in the studios, Watts’ passion for acoustic jazz never left him. At the end of a long day of sessions, he could frequently be heard playing fiery jazz in late-night clubs around Los Angeles.
In 1983, the film composer Michel Colombier wrote an orchestral piece entitled “Nightbird” for Watts. At the work’s inaugural performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, Charlie Haden came backstage to introduce himself. The meeting led to Watts performing with Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and to tours with Pat Metheny’s Special Quartet which included Haden.
Watts’ tour with Metheny’s group in the late 1980s found him on a triple bill with Sun Ra and the Miles Davis Band — a turning point. “The serious energy of Pat’s music inspired me to choose work at this level of performance. Every night I also listened to Sun Ra and Miles and rejoiced in the power I was feeling in the music.” Watts’ charter membership in Haden’s critically-acclaimed Quartet West, with whom he has toured and recorded for twenty-five years, his work for the audiophile Japanese label JVC Music and his growing catalog of original music for Flying Dolphin illustrate his commitment to jazz.
His four recordings for JVC Music are some of the finest of his extensive career. For these projects, he surrounded himself with several of his favorite players; Jack DeJohnette, Arturo Sandoval, Kenny Barron, Mulgrew Miller, Eddie Gomez, Jimmy Cobb and Marc Whitfield. The music encompassed both jazz classics and new pieces by Watts. Between his stint with JVC and starting his own label Flying Dolphin, Watts recorded Reflections with Los Angeles pianist Ron Feuer, a 2003 saxophone/piano duet project of lush ballads. He also recorded duet CDs Blue Topaz and Pa Chuly with acclaimed German pianist (and member of his European quartet) Christof Saenger for Laika Records.
Watts’ eclectic mix of career activities has included work with vocalist Kurt Elling in a tribute to Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane, which won Elling his first Grammy Award, and concerts with the WDR Big Band Cologne in Germany, followed by the National Radio Band of Slovenia, which played two of his compositions arranged for Watts by the celebrated Michael Abene. He has performed in Jazz at the Kennedy Center for Billy Taylor and has appeared in Australia with Billy Cobham and orchestra.
A typical year finds him touring Europe with his own European Quartet in spring and fall, in Asia as a featured guest artist with long-time collaborator and friend, pianist Jeremy Monteiro, and performing at summer festivals throughout North America and Europe, often with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West. In 2012 Watts toured with Doc Severinsen’s recently-renewed big band as featured soloist.
He gives back to the music by conducting student clinics and master classes, and soon will release his first educational video A Melodic Approach to Improvisation on Quantum Leap Ltd. Watts has also compiled a collection of orchestral arrangements for guest soloist appearances with symphonies, most recently with the National Symphony of Costa Rica. Finally, there is the occasional “hometown gig” with the Ernie Watts Quartet in California, where he is still based.
Summing it all up, Watts describes his ongoing journey. “I see music as the common bond having potential to bring all people together in peace and harmony. All things in the physical world have vibration; the music I choose to play is the energy vibration that touches a common bond in people. I believe that music is God singing through me, an energy to be used for good.”
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- Photo Bob Barry/jazzography.com
Hamilton Price began playing Tuba at age 14 in his hometown of Jonesboro, Arkansas. At 17, he switched his focus to the upright bass. He received his Bachelors degree in Classical Double Bass Performance from the University of Texas at Austin. Hamilton studied improvised music with bassist John Fremgen and pianist Jeff Hellmer, and studied Classical Double Bass with David Neubert and Jessica Valls. He played in Gerry Gibbs’ Thrasher Band for five years, which led him to Los Angeles where he lives today.
Hamilton has performed with Billy Childs, Geoffrey Keezer, Eric Reed, Kenny Werner, Joanne Brackeen, Tamir Hendelman, Tigran Hamasyan, Otmaro Ruiz, Patrice Rushen, Dewey Redman, Dave Liebman, Steve Wilson, Bob Sheppard, John Abercrombie, Gary Bartz, Sam Rivers, Ravi Coltrane, James Moody, Walter Smith III, Tom Scott, Hubert Laws, Terry Gibbs, Kevin Mahogany, Roberta Gambarini, Jon Hendricks, Anthony Wilson, Chico Pinheiro, Larry Koonse, Peter Sprague, Mike Stern, Larry Coryell, Tom Harrell, Randy Brecker, Gilbert Castellanos, Steve Turre, Brian Blade, Willie Jones III, Terreon Gully, Antonio Sanchez, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Mark Ferber, Clarence Penn, Vinnie Colaiuta, Francisco Mela, Peter Erskine, T.S. Monk, Lewis Nash, Steve Hass, Gary Novak.
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“Some drummers bang their drums, but Schnelle held to the background, making himself known but not overwhelming the rest of the group, playing with a sensitivity that supported the others while keeping impeccable time.” – Bill Leikam, All About Jazz
”Schnelle is an up-an-comer himself, a serious player no matter the setting – and a lot of fun to watch too.” - Brick Wahl, LA Weekly
Dan Schnelle is one of the most talented, in-demand drummers in the Los Angeles area. Known for an intuitive ability to do precisely what is necessary for each performance, Schnelle understands how to make other musicians comfortable, while bringing enough of the unexpected to his playing to keep it consistently exciting. Unsatisfied with the idea that the drum set is merely a time-keeping device, Schnelle is thoughtful about how this unique instrument, with its nearly limitless variety of sounds, can be tastefully and effectively deployed in a wide variety of musical situations. Years spent collaborating with some of the best musicians in Los Angeles (and beyond) have earned him a reputation as a hard-working, professional, and creative team player; one who is, above all, committed to musical excellence.
Schnelle began learning to play the drums in his hometown of Merrick, New York, at the age of ten. He progressed quickly, and by high school, was studying with two important and widely respected teachers, Al Miller and Dom Famularo. Together these men opened Schnelle’s ears to the music of Buddy Rich, Max Roach, and Steve Gadd. Later, he would attend USC’s Thornton School of Music, where he was exposed to a much broader perspective on jazz (and music as a whole), thanks in part to close interaction with such masters as Terri Lyne Carrington, Peter Erskine, Ndugu Chancler, Aaron Serfaty, John Clayton, Alan Pasqua, and many others. In his final years at USC, Schnelle was named a Louie Bellson Scholar, an honor bestowed on only one drummer each year. And after earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Studies, Schnelle was selected to attend the Henry Mancini Institute, where he performed and studied with Vince Mendoza, Billy Childs, Dave Leibman, Harold Jones, and Doc Severinsen.
Even as a student in Los Angeles, Schnelle was already working regularly around town. He has since toured throughout the US and abroad, in all kinds of performance situations, including major jazz festivals. Notable collaborators have included Josh Nelson, Dayna Stephens, Walter Smith III, Perry Smith, Nick Mancini, Mahesh Balasooriya, Tom Luer, Matt Zebley, Gary Fukushima, Andy Langham, Anthony Wilson, Ben Wendel, Larry Koonse, the Industrial Jazz Group, and many others.
Nowadays Schnelle maintains a busy playing schedule while simultaneously working as a dedicated music educator; he understands that effective pedagogy is a way of not only giving back to the art form but also continuing to expand his own playing. As such, he has been an instructor at the Henry Mancini Institute, the South Pasadena Music Center and Conservatory, and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz (where, in addition to drum instruction, he has led student big bands and combos). Schnelle also has an extensive roster of private students.
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- September 21, 2012 / 3:33 am
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