Herbie Hancock: mind-blowing explorer of possibilities

Possibilities book coverHerbie Hancock recounts a story about playing onstage with Miles Davis in the 1960s. As Miles took a breath to start his trumpet solo, Herbie played a chord that was so wrong, “hanging out there like a piece of rotten fruit.” Miles paused for a moment, and then played a note that somehow made the chord sound right. That illuminating story speaks to many things: masterful musicianship, opening your mind to a new sound without being judgmental, the improvisatory spirit that is the soul of jazz, learning by making “mistakes.” Continue reading →

Robot composer

GenJam (short for Genetic Jammer) is an interactive algorithm that learns to improvise jazz. Computer scientist John “Al” Biles of the Rochester Institute of Technology, who also plays trumpet, designed the algorithm in 1993-94. GenJam listens to what he plays on trumpet and responds. Continue reading →

The problem with jazz

Jazz saxophoneWashington continues to amaze me musically. Two weeks ago it was a phenomenal performance at Bohemian Caverns by local musicians Allyn Johnson and Divine Order. This past Thursday, it was unexpectedly encountering gifted harmonica player Frederic Yonnet at the Holiday Inn. I stopped in after work at the hotel’s bar, the 21st Amendment, which features jazz on Thursdays and Fridays. I first heard Yonnet last March when he performed onstage with Prince in L.A. What a surprise it was to see him performing in the small lounge of a hotel across the street from where I now work. Continue reading →

Divine Order’s music lifts up your spirit

Allyn JohnsonDuring my recent relocation to Washington, D.C., my postings dwindled to a trickle. All of my energy has been going toward settling in to new surroundings. But last night I ventured out to hear live music at the Bohemian Caverns and get a taste of what the city has to offer. Do you know how sometimes the most revelatory experiences can occur when you have no expectations, no idea of what you’re about to hear? That’s what happened when Allyn Johnson and Divine Order took the stage of that small, intimate jazz club and unleashed the most amazing, breathtaking music. Continue reading →