Gratitude: Musings on the QJOG Spring Jazz Fest 2015

April 26, 2015

Yesterday was the Queens Jazz OverGround’s Third Annual Spring Jazz Fest at Flushing Town Hall. It’s something that I, along with my partners-in-crime Josh Deutsch and Brian Woodruff, work on for most of the year. It’s a lot of planning that ends in one 14-hour fireworks display of master classes for the general public, working with student ensembles from Queens public schools, and performances by professional Queens-based jazz groups.

I have called Queens home since 2004, when my then-fiancé-now-husband Andrey and I moved to Long Island City to a railroad apartment with exposed brick walls and mice that our cat, Gretta, loved to hunt and kill, their tiny corpses left for us as a gift. At the time the neighborhood had one high rise and another on the way; eleven years later we have dozens of new skyscrapers and apartment buildings, all billed as “luxury” and almost more expensive than Manhattan.

But I digress. Borough President Melinda Katz has championed Queens as a destination for the arts – her mother founded the Queens Foundation of the Arts, her father the Queens Symphony – and Josh, Brian and I embrace that statement with enthusiasm and vigor. All three of us being jazz musicians and jazz educators, we are dedicated to bringing as much jazz to the people of Queens as possible.

Yesterday started pretty early. Convergence Arts board member Ana met me at my place, and Andrey helped us pack the (tiny) car full of amps, guitars, and concessions for purchase. Tucked in nicely, we began the trek to Flushing Town Hall on an empty Long Island Expressway, where our conversation became so intense I took the wrong exit (but corrected our direction pretty quickly).

We arrived at Flushing Town Hall at 10:40, which meant we were able to load in with plenty of time to spare. Everyone else pretty much showed up on time at 11, with Josh bringing delicious tarts from a local Chinese bakery, as well as his super cool parents who were visiting from Seattle and wanted to volunteer for the event. Brian’s mother and sister were also there (as they are every year) and together we were ready to go in no time. Tina Seligman (who runs these amazing jazz collage workshops) set up in the Gallery, ready to work with budding collage artists of all ages. (Did you know that Louis Armstrong was a collage artist in his spare time? He made thousands of them.)

Jazz Cups SJF15

Sadly, our first middle school jazz band had to cancel, which meant that things were a little slow for the first hour or so. But our first middle-school band was swingin’ – and clinicians Javier and Tom were there to work with them on specifics. It’s always so inspiring to hear these kids playing through the jazz repertoire and really giving it everything; it’s this sense that you’re passing the music on to the next generation and they’re owning it, making it personal…

As the day progressed, we moved on to high school bands such as the Frank Sinatra big band (unbelievably mature and together!) and gave some master classes (brass, woodwinds and rhythm section) before moving on to the professional bands. We had such a great mix this year, from George Gee’s swing quintet to Thana Alexa’s modern vocal jazz. Martin Kelly’s Affinity Trio rocked the Gallery; Josh Deutsch’s Pannonia gave us folk songs from an imaginary land. Brian Woodruff’s sextet featured a vocalist this year for a powerful, uplifting performance.

I was fortunate to be sharing the stage with trombonist Joe Fiedler and bassist Sean Conly. We call ourselves “MoFiCo” and play music from the classic 1968 record Zo Ko Ma (Attila Zoller, Lee Konitz, Albert Mangelsdorff) as well as some Jimmy Giuffre. Playing with Joe and Sean is always so easy; we have this trust that propels the music to the highest of levels.

The evening ended on a super high with our Guest of Honor, bassist/composer Rufus Reid. Rufus was my teacher/mentor at William Paterson College where I finished my undergraduate degree in 1996. He was the Director of Jazz Studies at the college and he ran a program that was focused on the music and on everyone respecting each other, something I never forgot. Rufus played a set with alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, Josh, Brian and me. It could not have been more amazing. I hadn’t played with Rufus since college, and that alone was quite profound.

The entire day left me feeling very grateful. I love sharing the music with students and audiences alike; I love playing the music with people I consider friends and mentors for whom I hold the highest regard.

 

 

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Groundhog Day, or my Snow Days in Boston

Have you ever seen the movie “Groundhog Day”? Bill Murray plays a journalist who wakes up day after day only to find that it’s still the same day: Groundhog Day. It’s a frustrating, hilarious scenario and a great movie.

The past three weeks have been a “Groundhog Day” of sorts for me. I keep traveling up to Boston from New York City only to find that school has been canceled due to snow. I spend my days indoors, sleeping late and catching up on work. (The fact that this is my second blog post in 2015 and it’s only February says something given my past record of posting.) This week was even crazier: not only did both days of school get canceled because of the snow, but my Sunday night gig with Colin Stack at the Lily Pad in Cambridge was also postponed to a future date. I drove up Saturday night to avoid the snow (which, incidentally, began falling the moment I hit the Massachusetts border – I am not making this up) only to find out on Sunday that there was no gig, followed by there being no school.

The craziest part of this is that there are still students I haven’t met. Yesterday I finally got on Google Hangouts and taught two of these three students their first guitar lesson of the semester. They’re great kids and I think that once we can get into a groove (once it stops snowing!) things will be fantastic.

Boston received a record snowfall for a two-week span of time, an amount of snow bigger than the famous Blizzard of ’78 (which is saying something because that was EPIC). Out of eight days of teaching this semester I’ve taught only two-and-a-half days due to the weather. It’s truly insane, the amount of snow and what it looks like out there:

 

 

This is a LOT. OF. SNOW.

This is a LOT. OF. SNOW.

Boston Snow at night!

Boston Snow at night!

It’s been great catching up on things, but I really miss teaching. Next week is supposed to be clear on the days I’m teaching, so hopefully we can finally get started on the semester. I love snow, but this is too much.

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I don’t know about you, but 2014 was a DOOZY for me. I couldn’t wait for it to end; in fact, after I finished doing grades for the fall semester at Berklee College of Music I spent a lot of time sleeping. Who could blame me? I had a crazy semester and a crazy year. I also have two really adorable cats (Euclid and Spackle) that love naps and are almost like dogs in that they love to cuddle.

Spacklepaws

Well, 2015 is here and I am loving it. So far I have all of this renewed energy, and I’m playing lots of music and getting things done. I’m even back to my teenage hobby of counted cross stitch, though now, instead of making needlepoint pictures of flowers, I stitch things like replicas of 1980s Van Halen.

VH

Every year I choose three words that I would like to guide the year. This way, I can’t really break my resolutions; there aren’t any to break. After thinking about it a long time, I chose these:

Community
- Spending more time with friends and family.
- Sharing my music with the community at large.
- Creating programming that makes a positive difference for others.
Completion
- Working on one thing at a time
- Finish all of those projects I start instead of doing them halfway
- Not being afraid to work on that one thing for a very long time if that’s what it takes
- Not being afraid to go back to a project and finish what I started (which may have been AGES ago).
Commitment
- To myself
- To others, including YOU!
- To Community and Completion

Maybe I made New Year’s Day mean more than I ought to, but whatever I did, so far it’s working (and we’re 23 days in). I also convinced myself that even if it’s a bad day, tomorrow is a new day and I can start all over. It feels great!

What does that mean for you? Do you have three words that you would like 2015 to be about? It’s a fun little exercise and a lot less daunting than the usual, “I will do this and this and this and this…” that so many of us do every year. For me anyway, that’s such a setup for disappointment.

There will be more music this year to be sure. I have a CD I’m shopping for a label (yes it sounds very 20th century but I’m doing it anyway), I’m writing more music to Pirkei Avot verses, and I’m going into the studio to record my original compositions inspired by my love of Formula One racing. There’s also a project I’m doing with Joe Fiedler on trombone that performs the music of Attila Zoller and Albert Mangelsdorff as well as some original music, and we’re having a great time with that.

As the great Billy Strayhorn would say, “Onwards and Upwards!”

And as Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes in his modern interpretation of the Pirkei Avot, Chapter 1 Verse 3:

Live Without Hesitation.
Dwell not on outcome or reward.
Act with full attention.

Why I Am Never Bored

The words “I’m bored” haven’t crossed my lips since that time I was 16 years old, went to a party in the woods where everyone was doing nothing but drinking beer, and left after about three minutes to go home and practice. (Yes, it was a weekend. But time without a guitar in my hands is time wasted.)

Heaven forbid I sit still for one second. But that’s o.k., because it means that I have fun adventures. It also means fun adventures to share with you, my dear reader.

Here’s how it happened: there’s this great space in Queens called Single Cut Beersmiths. They’re the first micro-brewery to open in Astoria (Queens) since Prohibition, and they love guitar. (For those of you who aren’t big guitar fanatics, a Single Cut guitar has a body that has been “cut away” to make access to the higher frets of the guitar easier to reach.) Since I love guitar, and I love beer (even though yes, I did leave a party where there was beer drinking – it wasn’t good beer, and we were sitting on rocks in the woods) I thought, “the perfect combination!”

Sure enough, Single Cut has a stage in their tap room, complete with guitar amps, bass amps, and a big drum set. Members of the Queens Jazz OverGround met with the managers/owners of Single Cut, and a two-day jazz festival took place in October 2013. We had seven Queens-based jazz bands, including Mostly Other People Do The Killing and Safety Buffalo.

Now it’s time for a guitar festival! I’ve teamed up with my buddy and fellow Six-Stringer Mike Baggetta for a monthly concert series featuring some of the best (and our favorite) guitar players out there. We’ll be at Single Cut featuring three different FABULOUS guitar groups the third Friday in April, May, and June.

It’s a new thing for me to be curator of a concert series. I’ve had a little bit of experience with it through the Queens Jazz OverGround and our partnership with Flushing Town Hall, but this is all guitar. And you know me – I LOVE guitar. And Mike and I were able to get some of the best for this series: David Torn (April 18), David Tronzo (May 16), Nels Cline and Julian Lage (June 20).

Sometimes I think I’m crazy for doing something like organizing a concert series and all that goes with it: getting sponsors, getting the word out, etc. But then I think, “Wow, so much great guitar for three concerts over the course of three months” AND I get to be the opening band for DAVID TRONZO’s trio and I think: “Oh Yeah!”

 

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My Uncle Walter’s Fabulous Life

My Great-Uncle Walter E. Monaco

 

About a month ago, my grandfather’s brother Walter E. Monaco passed away at the age of 91. I hadn’t seen him in years; he had been living in San Antonio, TX since 2009 and before that had spent almost his entire adult life in Europe. The longest period of time I spent with him was in the summer of 1988 when he stayed at my house for six weeks and I was a sullen teenager interested in nothing but locking myself in my room and practicing. (Come to think of it, I still just want to lock myself in my room and practice; guess some things never change.)

 

What I remember about Uncle Walt was his big smile, his incredible stories and his love of life. He talked about being on the bobsled team for the United States in the 1950s; he told me that saxophonist Stan Getz used to shoot heroin in his bathroom every time he was in Germany. After Uncle Walt left our house that summer, my mother found a half-empty bottle of vodka stashed away in the guest room. I remember smiling then, because my mother was horrified, and I – being a sullen teenager – thought it was hysterical and matched Uncle Walt’s mischievous personality perfectly.

 

Sadly I was unable to attend his funeral, but my sister did, and she marveled at the stories told about his life, and the family that found him the retirement community in San Antonio and were taking care of him until the end. She also showed me an email from Sir Stirling Moss, a famous Formula One racecar driver in the 1950s. Sir Moss was a friend of Uncle Walt’s, and had written to the family to express his condolences.

 

The news that my Uncle Walt was friends with someone involved in Formula One Racing was something I hadn’t heard of before. Being that Formula One is the name of my band, I went online and did a little research on my Uncle Walt. What I found was astonishing: not only did he spend time with Formula One racecar drivers, but he also tried the sport himself. I found out this information from a lovely tribute that the fascinating pilot and racecar enthusiast Carlos Ghys posted of Uncle Walt: http://www.carlosghys.be/html/biography_walt.html

 

(Carlos also wrote on his biography page that Uncle Walt was a cousin of Frank Sinatra’s. This is news to me, but now I’m a bit curious so I’ll do some research.)

 

Anyway, this was all very exciting stuff – seeing the photos, reading about the people he knew in the racing world, and also in show business (Errol Flynn was a buddy of his). I regret not having kept in touch; I think he would have been delighted to hear that I had an interest in Formula One racing and that I had named my band after it…

Collective Action and what it means for jazz in Queens – and jazz for you!

About a year ago, I began working with Marty Khan, a super cool and super wise man with 30-plus years’ experience in the jazz business as well as the author of the best jazz business book ever written, Straight Ahead. Marty’s ideas are simple yet powerful; they are so simple, in fact, that many don’t get what he’s trying to do, which is to create sustainability in the life of a jazz artist through logical steps, one of which is the concept of Collective Action.

For me, Collective Action comes in the form of the Queens Jazz OverGround. Together with trumpeter Josh Deutsch,  bassist Mark Wade, and drummer Brian Woodruff, the four of us meet regularly to pursue our mission of bringing more jazz to the borough of Queens – or, as I like to say, bringing jazz home to Queens. For Queens used to be – and continues to be – home to more jazz musicians than you would think.  From Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong to Jimmy Heath and James Spaulding (the latter two still residents of the borough), Queens is a jazz home.

There’s this long hallway that connects the AirTrain to JFK to the Long Island Railroad and ends at the Sutphin Blvd Subway Station. In this hallway, you will see numerous banners listing all of the jazz legends who lived in Queens at one time or another (or still do). There’s also a sign that says “Queens: Home to Jazz Legends” and also lists their names on the wall. (You can see a photo HERE.)

It is because of this Collective Action that we have some exciting news: less than one year into the start of the Queens Jazz OverGround, we are thrilled to be presenting an all-day jazz festival at Flushing Town Hall. There will be collage workshops for the kids; middle and high school jazz bands performing all day; improvisation workshops and rhythm section workshops; and concerts starting at 5 p.m. with the York College Jazz Orchestra and continuing with bandleaders from Queens.

The highlight of the evening will be the performance of Queens resident and Jazz Legend James Spaulding, a saxophonist and flutist who you’ve heard on recordings by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, among others. We are beyond excited that he will be playing at our first ever jazz festival.

Did I mention that the entire event is free? We are generously supported by the Queens Council on the Arts, M&T Bank, Poets&Writers Inc., as well as too many individuals to list here.

I never could have done this by myself. Many thanks to Josh, Mark, and Brian, as well as to J.Walter Hawkes (our IT guy/resident trombonist) and Teri Wade (our fearless logistics leader). This is Collective Action at its finest. And we are having a blast; and are able to share this music that we love with you.

I do hope we see you there on April 27.

 

 

 

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Crawling into the 21st century…

Every January I tell myself, “this will be the year of blogging!” and every January SOMETHING comes up. Or I get overwhelmed.

This year’s excuse? My new web site.

I know, I know…a new web site? That’s good news, right? And YES, it IS good news. And Mary K Elkins did a FANTASTIC job on it, methinks. And now that the Mayan Apocalypse is behind us (though I hear there is an Inca Apocalypse on its way…) I am committed to getting. this. technology. thing. together.

It’s amazing what an age difference of a few years can make. My 31-year-old guitar student (ok, so he does work in computers) can build web sites with his eyes closed and one hand tied behind his back, while I sit here thinking, “if I type the wrong letter will the computer explode?!” and I walk away. It’s kind of like when I was a kid in Phys. Ed. and someone would throw the ball to me; instead of catching it, I would block its path by crossing both of my arms in front of my face and shrieking. As I enter my 40th year (the big birthday is October 27!) I realize that while it’s not that far away from 31, from a technology standpoint, it’s light years behind. But my student has graciously offered to help me. He is a very patient man.

Besides, it all boils down to this: “I can’t. I have to practice.” My mantra. Forever. Every once in a while I will see this sign posted randomly in some classroom or office when I am in Boston for my weekly teaching gig at Berklee College of Music, and it makes me feel like I’m home. So I’ll always gravitate to the guitar before anything else; I’ve been that way since 1985, why stop now?

But I’ll make more time for technology this year. That’s a promise; or a threat, depending on how you see it. Until next time,

Big Hugs,
Amanda

p.s. As I tried to update my news page with this new post, I almost wrecked the entire programming of the page! Fortunately it didn’t allow me to. I need to be more careful…

 

 

 

Independent Music for the Holidays, Anyone?

Ah, December. It’s hard to believe that as I type this, we’re thick in the middle of the holiday season. Where did the time go? I think the older I get, the faster the time goes…

It was an amazing year. Teaching at Berklee has been super and I’m looking forward to the Spring semester, when I teach my first class, a Jazz Styles Lab. (This semester I had private students only. They were fantastic!)

This year also saw the release of “The Pirkei Avot Project, Vol. 1″, my CD of music composed to excerpts from an ancient collection of rabbinical wisdom. Thanks to the generosity of many, the project was partially fueled through RocketHub, a crowdfunding site that brings people together to support projects they believe in.

And with a new CD put out on one’s own label comes…boxes. Boxes of CDs. HUNDREDS of them.

At last count, I have released five CDs as a leader or a co-leader. Four of these five CDs are sitting in my closet, begging to be played on someone’s stereo. These CDs are:

amanda monaco 4 (2003 – with Jason Gillenwater, Fraser Hollins, Jeff Davis)
Intention (2006 – with Jason Gillenwater, Fraser Hollins, Jeff Davis)
I Think I’ll Keep You (2009 – with Michael Attias, Sean Conly, Satoshi Takeishi)
The Pirkei Avot Project, Vol. 1 (2011 – with Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, Daphna Mor, Sean Conly, Satoshi Takeishi)

And since ’tis the season for giving gifts, I’ve decided that I will sell these CDs at very special prices, autograph them, wrap them in festive paper, and mail them to you. Buy one CD for $8, two for $14, three for $18, four for $20. I accept PayPal at amanda@amandamonaco.com and also checks mailed to:

PO Box 1695
Long Island City NY 11101

Thank you for continuing to give me the opportunity to share my music with you. May your holiday season be joyous, filled with laughter, love, and peace.

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