Blue Is More Than a Color
I have long imagined a large jazz ensemble that somehow reconciles the energy of the Mingus band, the finesse of the Maria Schneider Orchestra, the grandeur of the Pat Metheny Group, the melodicism of Kenny Wheeler, and the humanity of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. The big challenge is how to balance through-composed formal structures with space for improvisation and spontaneous creativity. Blue Is More Than A Color begins to realize this vision.
Blue Is More Than A Color shines a light on the history of the creative jazz scene in Akron, the current renaissance centered around the Blu Jazz club, and the brilliant young musicians who are choosing to base their lives and careers in Akron and Northeast Ohio. Blue Is More Than A Color was made possible by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as part of its Knight Arts Challenge. The Knight Arts Challenge funds the best ideas for engaging and enriching the city of Akron through the arts.
Light blue, ice blue, baby blue. Morning blue, midnight blue. Mediterranean blue, Persian blue, Delft blue.
Parrish blue, the blue of magic. Marian blue, the blue of angels.
Bluebells and delphiniums, periwinkles and morning glories. Blue orchids and cornflowers. . . Les Bluets.
We live within a fugue of blue, Beneath the infinite, untouchable sky, kissing hypnotic seas. We embrace blue mountains. We wrestle blue devils.
The Man With the Blue Guitar. Kind of Blue. The Abstract Truth. Lady Sings the Blues. Cross Road Blues. Yer Blues.
Blue songs like tattoos. Blue Is More Than A Color.
“It's one of the few recordings I hear that makes me want to listen again and again and play for others! It's the right length and isn't all over the place in terms of the sound and the vibe. And such great performances and soloists. . .wow! Great melodies throughout, which you just don't hear much these days except from a few writers like Vince Mendoza. You leave the welcome mat out for the listener by giving them something to hang on to: great grooves, melodies supported by great harmonies and some drama along the way. You've got it all in this record!” -Rick Lawn, author of Jazz Scores and Analysis
The Way of the Sly Man
This brilliant 2010 recording is a musical representation of the Fourth Way principles of the mystic G.I.Gurdjieff. The nine-part suite was made possible by a grant from Chamber Music America and the Doris Duke Charitable Trust.
The Way of the Sly Man
The Way of the Fakir 1. The Search (Seekers of the Truth) 2. The Law of Three (Dervish Dance) The Way of the Monk 3. Bhakti 4. Identifyin’ (Blues for G) 5. Essence The Way of the Yogi 6. Harmonious Development 7. Karnak (Stop) The Way of the Sly Man 8. Remembering (I Am Here) 9. Esoteric Circle Composed and arranged by Dave Morgan
Howie Smith – soprano and alto saxophone, clarinet John Klayman – tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute Tom Reed – baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet Jack Schantz – trumpet and flugelhorn Bill Hoyt – French horn Chris Anderson – trombone Dan Wall – piano and keyboards Bob Fraser – guitars Dave Morgan – double bass Ron Busch – vibraphone (tracks 2, 7, 9) Nate Douds – drums (tracks 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) Val Kent – drums (track 4) Jamey Haddad – World percussion (tracks 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9)
Recorded at Audio Recording Studios by Bruce Gigax Mixed at Five/Four Productions by Michael Bishop Album Design by Jack Schantz Cover Painting by Chris McCullough Produced by Dave Morgan and Jack Schantz
The Way of The Sly Man
Take the understanding of the East, and the knowledge of the West—and then seek. G.I. Gurdjieff
The search is what everyone would undertake if he were not stuck in the everydayness of his own life. To be aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair. Walker Percy, The Moviegoer
Jack Schantz approached me three years ago with the idea of creating a concert-length piece of music inspired by the life and teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff. Since then I have immersed myself in Gurdjieff, contemplating how I might express his concepts objectively through the medium of instrumental music.
Jack’s original vision included the formal idea of the four movements based on the four Ways. The Fakir would be represented by sounds of the East, percussion instruments, and Howie Smith’s soprano saxophone. The Monk would be represented by Western sacred music and feature his trumpet playing, while the Yogi would be represented by twentieth-century concepts of composition and feature Bob Fraser’s guitar. The Sly Man movement would be a synthesis and transformation of the first three movements, culminating in a reconciliation of disparate influences, and feature the improvisations of Dan Wall. At some point in the compositional process the four sections became divided into nine movements, representing the points of the enneagram, an important symbol in Gurdjieff’s cosmology.
Gurdjieff realized that not all people learn in the same way. He thus presented his teachings through a variety of idioms, including lectures, dances (the movements), literature, and music. While not a trained musician, he played and improvised melodies on the harmonium, many of which recalled from his journeys to the East. This music was transcribed and arranged by Thomas de Hartmann in close collaboration with Gurdjieff. Close study of this music was a way for me to gain an immediate connection to the essence of Gurdjieff.
The opening movement, “The Search (Seekers of the Truth),” recalls Gurdjieff’s early journeys, and is influenced Gurdjieff/de Hartmann’s Music of the Sayyids and the Dervishes. The Seekers of Truth—a small group Gurdjieff belonged to as a young man that was looking for nothing less that the meaning of life—searched for lost esoteric manuscripts and hidden spiritual orders. Howie Smith’s soprano saxophone improvisation evokes the extreme physical feats of the Fakir. The world of the Fakir is further explored in “The Law of Three (Dervish Dance),” which evokes Sufi whirling dervishes. The musical structure of this movement is based on Gurdjieff’s Law of Three, which states that creation or change in all fields occurs only when three forces interact: affirmation, negation, and reconciliation. He demonstrated the applicability of this law to a number of fields, including religion, science, law, and psychology. The second traditional path to enlightenment is the Way of the Monk, which is the path through God, focusing on the emotional center and faith in the traditional sense. In Bhakti—a practice that arose many centuries ago during the period of epic poetry in India—an intense reverence and devotion to the Divine supersedes everything else. The opening chorale melody of “Bhakti” evokes the spirit of hymns from the world’s great religions. Soloists Schantz and Dan Wall improvise their own meditations on the melody and harmony of the choral tune, much in the spirit of J.S. Bach’s variations on chorale tunes, his great chorale preludes. In order to be free oneself from living mechanically, Gurdjieff found that one must stop identifying. He taught that our conditioning and education cause most of us live our lives as unconscious automatons, oblivious to our own real potential. We “identify” with whatever captures our attention at any given moment, barely noticing our inner fragmentation. We are lost to ourselves by chasing after every thought, emotion, and sensation that crosses our radar screen. Identifying is similar to the notion of attachment and non-attachment in the Buddhist tradition. “Identifyin’ (Blues for G)” is a musical exploration of identification. It is a 12-bar blues, an archetypal formal structure found in all styles of jazz and American popular music. In this movement, I think of certain parallels between Gurdjieff’s teaching and the path of the jazz musician in the twentieth-first century. Like the jazz musician, Gurdjieff’s teaching was largely improvised. He was constantly looking for the approach that would work in any given situation. Like the Fourth Way, the jazz musician is on an inner path to esoteric knowledge while living in the world.
The exploration of the Way of the Monk concludes with the ballad “Essence.” Gurdjieff taught that one must learn to distinguish between personality and essence. Personality is all of the affectations we pick up through the educational process, and through imitating and accommodating everything around us. Essence is the core we are born with, a core that becomes increasingly undeveloped and hidden in most people. The Work involves techniques for containing personality and developing essence. I couldn’t think of a sound that evokes essence any more directly than Tom Reed’s masterful clarinet playing.
The Way of the Yogi is the path of the intellect and the attainment of knowledge. In jazz there is quite a bit of harmonic and rhythmic information that one needs to master in order to become fluent improviser. In “Harmonious Development” soloists Bob Fraser, Schantz and Wall exhibit their vast knowledge of harmony as they navigate this somewhat tricky set of chord changes. Gurdjieff established his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at the Château Le Prieuré at Fontainebleau-Avon in October 1922, after migrating for four years with a small group of followers in escaping the Russian Revolution.
The formal structure, sculpture, bas-reliefs, and placement of hieroglyphic texts of the temple complex at Karnak, Egypt encodes all of the scientific, artistic, and religious information known at the time. It is a perfect example of Gurdjieff’s concept of objective art. In Gurdjieff’s epic novel, Beezlebub’s Tales To His Grandson, Beezlebub travels on the spaceship Karnak. “Karnak (Stop)” explores rhythmic concepts. The thorny terrain of this movement echoes the complexity of Gurdjieff’s novel. The entire piece is notated in common time (4/4), but various melodies implying other time signatures are superimposed throughout, including 7/4, 15/4 against 14/4, 7/4+5/4, and 8/4+7/4. The 4/4 meter is undermined to the point that when the music is finally in 4/4, it seems like an odd meter. This movement features improvisations by Howie Smith (5/4+7/4) and Dan Wall (7/4). The movement also evokes Gurdjieff’s well-known Stop exercise. At any moment he might shout “Stop.” All present would freeze in place and fix their eyes on whatever was in front of them. Their bodies remained motionless, and they were to hold whatever thought was in mind, until Gurdjieff shouted “Davay!” (“Continue!”).
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Gurdjieff Work is the concept of self-remembering. Quite simply, this means to be as present as possible in each given moment. With attention, the depth of our impressions and experience increases, and the inner world of the self begins to play a part in one’s everyday activities. Gurdjieff’s concept of “remembering one’s self” is related to Zen Buddhism’s “every minute Zen.” “Remembering (I Am Here)” features the flugelhorn of Jack Schantz. The Ways of the Fakir, Monk, and Yogi require a withdrawing from the world. The Fourth Way involves doing the doing the work in the midst of your everyday life, requiring above all else, being awake. The ultimate teacher is within one’s self. The esoteric circle consists of those who attain the highest possible development, possessing individuality, an indivisible ‘I’. The final movement “Esoteric Circle (The Fourth Way)” is a synthesis of the three traditional ways and the music I’ve used to represent them. Physicality, emotion, and intellect combine as through the fusion of the 2+3 rhythmic scheme, Eastern melody, and Western harmony. The improvisation by Dan Wall provides a “shock,” the introduction of a new impulse that will carry the movement across the barrier imposed by the writing and push the music to the higher level of energy needed to illuminate the synthesis of the diverse elements together in a synergy.
Become the possessor of your own sound ideas and don’t accept anything on faith. G.I. Gurdjieff