Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Happy holidays!

Well, it's the holidays. Which means I'm taking a well deserved break to relax, spend time with the family, and...well, transcribe several hours of interviews for my Women In Jazz book project. In February 2013, I'll begin another round of interviews for the book. Before then, the plan is to get down on paper all of the interviews I've conducted thus far for the book. No elves to help me out either, but who's complaining? It's a blast to listen back to these conversations. I learn so much every time I interview a musician. I'm very lucky to have already interviewed such an amazing diverse group of people for this book.

The video above features music by three of the interviewees, pianist Pamela York, harpist Brandee Younger, and soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom. This season, consider BUYING music by your favorite local, independent musician or band. Buying a CD direct from a musician at their gig is a truly hip thing to do, take it from me.

As always, thanks for your support. Stay tuned for more updates once the new year gets rolling.

Chris Becker

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pamela York: More Than The Notes

Pianist Pamela York's CD Lay Down This World: Hymns And Spirituals is a beautiful example of a jazz recording making the case for the connection between playing music and spirituality. Leading a trio that includes Lynn Seaton on bass and Sebastian Whittaker on drums, with Houston trombonist Andre Hayward guesting on two tracks, York presents 11 re-harmonized and re-imagined hymns and spirituals. The resulting music is not only a joy to listen to, but illuminates the transcendence musicians experience when they are playing music.

Lay Down This Groove

Lay Down This World is York's third CD and the second featuring the rhythm section of Seaton and Whittaker. Her previous CDs, Blue York and Way Of Time, each included one hymn or spiritual.

"People really gravitated toward (those songs)," says York. "I didn't expect such a positive response."

Many of the arrangements on Lay Down This World began as preludes or offerings York played during church services. Bringing these pre-20th century hymns and spirituals into the modern musical age was not an easy task.

"They're written many of them in four-part harmony," York explains. "Like how they would appear in a hymnal to be sung. And just to make them into contemporary jazz changes…how was I gonna do that? And how was I going to improvise on these new progressions?"

"I had played (these tunes) in a church setting, but never really on my own with my own chord changes and using them as a vehicle for my improv. So that was really tricky, especially on the first track."

That first track is a driving version of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," with its familiar melody buoyed by a strong, Afro-Cuban groove.

"When I was first playing around with it," says York of that particular hymn, "I felt like it really wanted to be in 6/8 time. I felt like it really propelled itself in kind of Afro-Cuban feel."

York's unique approach to groove continues on the CD's second track, "I Know That My Redeemer Lives — Glory, Hallelujah!" which is anchored in a reggae rhythm.

"I had been listening to the Jamaican-born pianist Monty Alexander," says York. "Starting it off with that reggae bass line in the left hand, and then having Sebastian come in…it felt natural. Monty Alexander is somebody I've been listening to for many years. I just took that sound and kind of ran with it."

Houston-born Whittaker's tasty Sly-like drum fills are perfect for this particular track.

"We've been playing together for about 10 years," says York of Whittaker. "I think a lot of people know him as a 'traditional' player. But when he plays a contemporary groove it's just so solid."

"He's like a kid on Christmas morning at the drum set," she adds. "Every gig, every session, he just brings 100 per cent . . . 110 percent!"

York decided to perform the spiritual "Deep River" as a solo, allowing the music "to be inspired by the instrument I was playing."

"As I was practicing it and re-harmonizing it," says York. "There were just certain spots in the melody I knew I had to stretch on. I liked the freedom of doing it as a solo."

"One thing that happened when I was playing, when I played the melody the very last time, I played the melody very low on the piano. Of course, it is kind of a play on the word 'deep.' I really liked the way it sounded, kind of low and sparse on the piano. Just to end it like that was very satisfying."

More than just the notes

Music, be it classical, rock and roll, or jazz, has always maintained a power to transcend religious dogma and literalism and provide listeners with (dare I say it?) a spiritual experience. Lay Down This World is definitely a recording that will appeal to people of all faiths, and maybe even a few doubters here and there.

"I didn't grow up going to church," says York. "I wasn't raised in any particular denomination or anything. (But) music stirred up something in me…you feel like, 'Wow, there's something greater than me out there.'"

"A lot of jazz musicians will tell you they're coming out of the church," York continues. "They heard their grandmother play the organ, they had it from a really early age. Not so with me. But I do feel that music satisfies me in a way that's hard to describe to people who aren't touched by music."

"I even find that when I practice and have had a satisfying practice session at the piano, I leave very fulfilled and actually am a better and nicer mother to my children (laughs). It actually is that important to me to have that outlet. And if I don't do it, I'm more of a frustrated person."

York agrees that music offers a key to transcendence not only for the listener, but also for those who play it.

"In many different ways," she says. "It's more than just the notes."

Pamela York's CD Lay Down This World: Hymns And Spirituals is available November 13 from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby.

(photo by Shannon Mucha)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

November and December interviews!

Thanks for visiting the Women In Jazz book project blog. Women In Jazz is a book collection of interviews I'm conducting with women who play jazz in all of its guises and permutations. For more content, photos, videos, and music related to the project, check out the Women In Jazz page on Facebook and while you're there, click that "like" button!

I recently did a follow up interview with Houston pianist Pamela York about her new trio CD Lay Down This World: Hymns and Spirituals. A version of that interview will go up on Culturemap later next week, and I'll be sure to share it. And earlier this month, in the wake of hurricane Sandy, I interviewed New York drummer and big band leader Sherrie Maricle for the book. She's a hell of a drummer and her DIVA Jazz Orchestra is just awesome. Do check them out live if you can!

This month I'll be speaking to two pianists, Roberta Piket (you can check out some of her incredible recordings below) and Patrizia Scascitelli. I'll also follow up my profile for Culturemap of Houston tenor saxophonist Alisha Pattillo with a more detailed interview with her for the book. Very exciting.

As usual, this means I'm doing a LOT of listening. Only wish I had more time to listen to and play through even more music.

Thank you for your support for this project. 2013 we'll shift into high gear and head toward the later stages of completing the book. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 5, 2012

...and yes, even more interviews!

Thanks for visiting the Women In Jazz book project blog. If you haven't already, please check out the Facebook page I've created for this project and give it a "like." It's a fun page, with content related to the book project and the subject of women in jazz. It just topped 100 likes, so that's something, right?

Since my last post here I've interviewed more incredible musicians for the book, including flautist Jan Leder, and cellist Nioka Workman (see below).

THREE MORE interviews for the book are being scheduled, and I'll tell you WHO I'm interviewing next time. So stay tuned. And again, thank you for your support!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

More interviews scheduled...

Good morning. I have no less than four interviews, no make that five, coming up this month an in October for the Women In Jazz book project.

Thanks everyone for your support. Check out the Women In Jazz book project Facebook page if you haven't already and give it a "like." I try to update it once or twice a week with relevant content and links related to the book and its subject.

The next person I'll be interviewing for the book is vocalist, composer, arranger, and visual artist Carmen Lundy. She's a wonderful singer. The video below gives you a look at her latest recording Changes which you can check out and buy from her website.

Time to do some listening...

Monday, September 3, 2012

Women in Jazz on Facebook, More interviews...

Right Photo of Terri Lyne Carrington by Tracy Love)

Well, a lot has happened very quickly since the promotional video for the Women In Jazz book project was completed.

First, please check out and give a proverbial "like" to the Women In Jazz Facebook page. This page has proved to be a great way to connect to music fans and even musicians I'll be interviewing for the book. The much maligned "timeline" format is actually a nice, visually pleasing way to share photos, videos, and other content related to the project.

In August, I interviewed drummer and composer Terri Lyne Carrington and the great Brazilian pianist and singer Eliane Elias for the book. Both interviews were fascinating. I was also lucky enough to be able to speak with saxophonist Jessy J and flutist Cheryl Pyle for the book. Next up, I'll be interviewing cellist Nioka Workman. More interviews are in the works, so stay tuned.
(Pianist Eliane Elias)

The Girls in the Band, a new documentary about the history of women in jazz music directed by Judy Chaikin, is out and currently touring film festivals across the U.S. The trailer looks great, and an article about the film appears in the September issue of JazzTimes magazine. If this film comes to your city, you don't want to miss it.

The film is not connected to by book project, by the way :) It is yet another welcome look at the history of jazz music from a fresh perspective.

Thanks everyone for the continued support.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Women In Jazz book project promo video

The Women In Jazz Book Promotional Video is done. Thanks to Jonathan Jindra who created it for me and to everyone who contributed to funding it via Indiegogo.

The video is a collage of excerpts from interviews I've already conducted for the book. The voices you hear come from Jane Ira Bloom, Sofia Rei, and Mindi Abair. The music comes courtesy of Pamela York, Brandee Younger, and Jane Ira Bloom. Thank you to cellist and composer Lenae Harris who is also quoted in the video.

More news is coming. Please enjoy this short, dynamic look at the book project, and feel free to share it widely.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The International Sweethearts Of Rhythm

Videographer Jonathan Jindra and I have been working on the first draft of what will be a promotional video for my Women In Jazz book project. The video will be around a minute and a half, and feature excerpts of music by some of the interviewees, including Brandee Younger, Pamela York, and Jane Ira Bloom. I'll post the video once it's ready to share with the world.

I am reading a fascinating essay by pianist Marian McPartland about the all-woman, sixteen piece band The International Sweethearts Of Rhythm, who formed in 1938 and were quite popular throughout the war years. The essay is from McPartland's book All In Good Time. Thought I'd share the video above of the Sweethearts which features some great ensemble playing and solos.

More updates to come. Thank you everyone for supporting this project.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

WIJ update, video, new interviews...

(Photo of Brandee Younger by Kyle Pompey)

Thank you again to everyone who supported my recent campaign on Indiegogo to raise funds to create a video to promote my Women In Jazz book project. Videographer Jonathan Jindra and I have started to plan out the video shoot. The final product will be stunning. I'll keep everyone updated.

A couple more campaign "perks" are going in the mail to donors next week.

I recently wrote two articles for Consumer Media Network about artists and crowdfunding. The first article profiles three artists, Houston string quartet Two Star Symphony, filmmaker Jesse Salmeron, and children's book author Mpho Otukile, who each used a different crowdfunding platform to raise money for their respective projects. The second article recaps my own experience with Indiegogo and my Women In Jazz book promotional video campaign.

Both articles may be helpful reading if you are considering crowdfunding to raise money for a creative project.

Recent interviewees for the Women In Jazz book include harpist Brandee Younger, who recently released a powerful track titled "He Has a Name," and cellist and composer extraordinaire Lenae Harris, whose music encompasses jazz fusion, classical, electronica, and hip-hop. Both interviews were very illuminating. Some themes are recurring in these conversations for the book, but there are also fascinatingly different perspectives on music, jazz, and life as an artist.

Next week, I'll be reaching out to more musicians to see if they'd like to be interviewed for the book. Thank you to those who have suggested musicians for me to contact, I really appreciate that. And feel free to be in touch with additional suggestions. beckermusic at yahoo dot com is my email.

More news to come. Thank you again for your support.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Short update, quick thank you!

I will be writing more on this blog later this weekend. But quickly, I'd like to thank everyone who helped with the recent Indiegogo campaign. I managed to raise $828 and received a post-campaign donation toward the project as well. Thank yous and perks will be mailed out next week. Stay tuned, as there will be more news, interview and music excerpts on this blog as we move into Spring and the project continues to unfold.

The video will be shot in June. Hoping to have it up then in July. It will also be a tool for contacting more potential interviewees about the project.

Thank you again. More soon!

Chris Becker

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


So with 9 days left in my Indiegogo campaign, I am over half way toward meeting my goal. And I'm optimistic about the next week, figuring I just need to keep reminding folks that the campaign is real, the book project is coming together very quickly, and that I need help to make it a reality.

I'm raising money on Indiegogo to fund a specially produced video that will promote the Women In Jazz book project. The video will go a long way toward helping to promote the book and connect with potential interviewees who may exist behind that firewall that is a manager, publicist, and/or record label.

Today I interviewed saxophonist Mindi Abair for the book. I had previously interviewed Mindi late last year for Culturemap Houston, and that conversation inspired me to consider compiling a collection of interviews with women who play jazz in all its forms into some kind of book form. Mindi has been incredibly gracious with her time, and has offered a very unique perspective on music and sustaining a career as (primarily) and instrumental artist. She may not play "jazz," but the music she plays is a cousin of that music, no question.

This past weekend, I interviewed soprano saxophonist and composer Jane Ira Bloom, Houston-based pianist Pamela York, and singer and composer ( (and friend) Sofia Rei. That's a pretty broad spectrum of musicians, and I'm just getting started! The conversations have been incredibly enlightening for me, and I can't wait to have them transcribed and presented together in book form. Later this month, I'll be interviewing harpist Brandee Younger and saxophonist Tia Fuller, who is playing with Esperanza Spaulding as I type this at the Houston House of Blues.

Any amount a person cares to donate is helpful. Please visit my Indiegogo page for more details about the project, some video, and great photos. Thanks everyone who has already donated or offered some other form of support! I truly, truly appreciate it.


Chris Becker

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The interviews begin; 14 days left in the campaign!

This weekend, I'm interviewing three different musicians for my Women In Jazz book project, including Sofia Rei, who I met when I lived in New York City. She's an incredible singer, composer, and band leader, and I am very pleased to have her perspective on music included in the book. The video below show Sofia and her ensemble in action.

There are 14 days left in the campaign, and I'm almost half way to my goal. Please consider making a donation. Any amount is helpful. Sharing the campaign with friends via Facebook and Twitter is also incredibly helpful.

Thanks everyone for your support!


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Women In Jazz decoupage

23 days to go. And so's going well. With each level contribution comes a perk. If you elect to donate $100 dollars to my Women In Jazz Promotional Video campaign you'll receive a handmade, one of a kind, women in jazz decoupage (pictured above) created by mezzo-soprano Lainie Diamond.

Binarium Productions Demo Reel

This is the demo reel for Jonathan Jindra’s video production company Binarium Productions. ‘m hoping to raise funds with this campaign to hire Jonathan to produce a promotional video for my Women In Jazz book project. Check out the reel to get an idea of the quality and inventiveness of Jonathan’s work. And thanks for your support.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The campaign has begun!

Last Wednesday, I launched my Women In Jazz Book Promotional Video campaign on Indiegogo. I'm hoping to raise a little bit of money to produce a video to promote the book project and function as a tool for reaching out to potential interviewees. I'm in the early stages of the book, but so far, saxophonists Mindi Abair, Jane Ira Bloom, and Tia Fuller, and Houston-based pianist singer Pamela York have agreed to be interviewed for the book. More names will be added soon.

To get an idea of the breadth of topics I plan to cover with each participating musician, please check out the interivew I did with Mindi Abair for CultureMap Houston in November 2011.

In less than a week, I've managed to raise $200 towards my $1000 goal, which is very encouraging. The concept of the book seems to be resonating with people. If you'd like to read more about the book project and contribute to the campaign, click on the image to your right.

Later this week, an article I wrote about crowdfunding will appear on the Consumer Media Network blog will go up. In the article, I describe the crowdfunding efforts of three different artists using three different platforms, as well as my own Women In Jazz book project. I'll share the link to that article soon.


Chris Becker

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Women in Jazz Book Project

I am a full-time writer for Consumer Media Network and a music and arts columnist for CultureMap Houston. I've written for the Houston Press, Option Magazine, and the contemporary classical music blog Sequenza 21. In addition to writing, I co-host a monthly radio show on called "Composer Talk" with pianist and composer Hsin-Jung Tsai. I'm also active as a composer and arranger.

I especially enjoy interviewing musicians from the world of jazz in all its forms and permutations. My column and personal blog has featured conversations with pianist Bobby Lyle, saxophonist Mindi Abair, singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, guitarist Russell Malone, conga maestro Poncho Sanchez, New Orleans pianist Larry Sieberth, and saxophonist and composer Matana Roberts, to name just a few. It was my conversation with Mindi Abair that sparked my idea to compile a collection of my interviews with women who play jazz in all of its forms. The working title of the book is Women in Jazz.

Does such a book currently exist? There are plenty of books about jazz featuring men, and it is a genre that, in spite of the groundbreaking advancements several notable women, is dominated by a male worldview. So what about the women composing for and directing big bands? Or shred with the best of them in the world of jazz-fusion? Or proudly play a kind of music that is a hybrid of styles and influences and called "jazz" just for the sake of a label?

I imagine a young musician, girl or boy, somehow coming across this proposed book and finding information and inspiration they didn't find before. Before that day comes, I look forward to and will enjoy, contacting women across the field of jazz and asking them to participate. The questions will focus on the nuts and bolts of building a career in music, so that the information practical as well as enlightening. One friend, a publicist, jokingly suggested I subtitle the book "Beyond the hair!"

This blog will document the book project as it comes together. I appreciate your stopping by, and hope you'll come back as I update this space with news and exclusive content.


Chris Becker