The Independent Ear

A fantastic New Orleans/Morocco connection

As festival season approaches (don’t sleep: DC Jazz Festival is June 9-18) we thought we’d reprise an incredible festival experience from 2009. I’m sure some of you agree that festival season truly kicks off with the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival APRIL 28-May 7, and perhaps we’ll see you down there the second weekend. From a global perspective there is no more colorful or soul-satisfying festival than the annual Gnaoua Festival in Essaouira, Morocco, which this year will be June 29-July 2. For this Independent Ear installment we take you back to 2009 for a fantastic experience that brought together two rich spiritual traditions, from the African American experience in Louisiana and the black Moroccan experience.

Our April 2009 installment of The Independent Ear detailed a then-forthcoming project to take Donald Harrison’s Congo Nation to Morocco for the 12th annual Gnaoua & World Music Festival.  Supported by a grant from USArtists International, the project which brought together Harrison’s Mardi Gras Indian (or Black Indian as he would likely prefer) traditions in collaboration with ensembles from the rich Gnaoua (or Gnawa) black Moroccan traditions (read more background on both in the April 2009 edition) came together beautifully during the recent festival, the weekend of June 25-28 in the lovely Moroccan seaside town of Essaouira on the shores of the Atlantic.  There are hopeful signs that a project is in the works to reverse the equation and bring a Gnawa ensemble to New Orleans for the 2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and a second collaboration with Donald Harrison’s Congo Nation.  Stay tuned…  In the meantime, here’s what happened in Essaouira last month:


Through a grant from USArtists International that was arranged via Jason Patterson’s not-for-profit Jazz Centennial organization (Jason is the proprietor of New Orleans’ leading jazz club Snug Harbor) we facilitated a historic collaboration with deep ancestral roots between Donald Harrison’s Congo Nation and the master Gnaoua musicians of Morocco (or Gnawa as it is spelled in some references; as died-in-the-wool Africanist and frequent Gnawa collaborator, NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston has been known to chuckle, in Africa there are often multiple spellings of the same word, term or title).  The event was the 12th annual Gnaoua & World Music Festival ( June 25-28, 2009 in the seaside town of Essaouira, Morocco.  Each June that idyllic, tranquil town of 70,000 inhabitants is transformed by hundreds of thousands of festival goers who descend on the seaside for this unique free festival.  One interesting sidebar: the festival is produced by the A3 organization based in Casablanca — an all-woman production company!


 The opening of the Gnaoua & World Music Festival includes a grand parade of Gnawa ensembles through town which was the first of many epiphanies for Donald Harrison, who found this grand processional uncannily reminiscent of Black Indian and Second Line parades in New Orleans.


The Gnaoua & World Music Festival plays two massive outdoor plaza-stages; the most vibrant is on Moulay Hassan Square adjacent to the town’s bustling fishing boat docks.  Additionally the festival has a lively beachside stage that hosts all manner of deejay-powered electronica and world music hook-ups.  After the action concludes on the three outdoor stages, at approximately midnight or so, it moves indoors to two (ticketed) spaces which are converted to club settings for jams that run deep into the night.  Congo Nation arrived in Essaouira the Monday prior to the festival’s Thursday evening kick-off to necessitate what turned out to be congenial communal rehearsals with the Gnawa and to get acclimated.  Essaouira has a colorful history, having hosted the filming of Orson Welles’ version of Othello (there is an Orson Welles statue and square just off the medina or old city).  Additionally such counter-culture types as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and members of the Rolling Stones among others found the town to be a congenial 60s-70s era vacation haven.


One evening after one of our many communal dinners Donald Harrison, Congo Nation guitarist Detroit Brooks (blue cap), percussionist Gerald French (back turned in blue shirt) and other members of the band struck up an impromptu New Orleans rhythm & chant at a music store across the street from the restaurant; needless to say they soon drew a delighted and curious crowd of Moroccan onlookers with their organic Crescent City groove.  This impromptu stop included several instrument purchases; during the festival Essaouira also morphs into a fascinating retail haven.


After the revelations of Thursday evening’s opening festival processional (see first photo) had time to marinate with Congo Nation, Friday night’s first scheduled festival gig couldn’t arrive soon enough.  The first of their two performances was a midnight hit Friday night at one of the after-hours club spaces, Chez Kebir.  This was particularly apopos for Jason & Sylvia Patterson, serving as Congo Nation’s road managers for the journey, since they’re diehard club people.  Any trip to Africa is bound to be full of surprises and this night was no exception.  On their way to the club Congo Nation assumed they would hit with the Gnawa ensemble they’d been rehearsing with.  Instead this was slated as a real deal jam as they were paired instead with musicians they’d never met, a Gnawa ensemble from Agadir, a city down the coast from Essaouira.  The impromptu nature of this jam actually heightened the deeply spiritual aspect of the Congo Nation/Gnawa collaboration. 


Chez Kebir, with its thick stone walls and vaulted Moroccan archways, proved to be a natural acoustic treasure once the sound reinforcement issues were ironed out.  As Congo Nation checked sound Suzan and I received separate breathless text messages from our daughters that Michael Jackson had suffered his fatal heart attack (note: there’s a 7-hour time difference between the west coast and Morocco).  We spread the shocking news to Congo Nation and befitting the art of an improviser, Donald quickly put together a Michael Jackson medley for the band’s opening piece.  After their short opening set the Gnawa followed with a short set, then came the first of the two grand collaborations.  Sometimes such efforts at bringing different cultures together fail because one of the proposed partners defers too much to the other, or dominates the proceedings.  Congo Nation, totally respectful as guests, were able to comfortably lock into the Gnawa groove and inject some of their own folkloric chants and rhythms ("Big Chief" etc.), weaving their traditions seamlessly with the Gnawa.  They positively lifted the room for the next two hours; it was a truly magic moment. 


One of the keys to the Gnaoua Festival has long been their custom of inviting improvisers from the West (along with artists and bands from sub-Saharan Africa) to the festival to interact with Gnawa musicians.  These invited guests have included such notables as Archie Shepp, Wayne Shorter Quartet, Joe Zawinul Syndicate, Pat Metheny Trio and many others, including a host of soloists.  After their Chez Kebir hook-up the Gnawa musicians were effusive in excitedly informing Donald and the other members of Congo Nation that this evening marked what for them was their closest, most successful collaboration ever with Western musicians!


Jammin’ at Chez Kebir; from left: Congo Nation guitarist Detroit Brooks (hidden except for his axe), bass guitarists Max Moran, Donald on tambourine, Gerald French seated on tambourine, Shaka Zulu (vest) on tambourine), and the Gnawa from Agadir seated in front.


The next night was the grand collaboration with the Gnawa ensemble led by Maalem (or Master) Mohamed Kouyou on the big stage at Moulay Hassan before tens of thousands of celebrants as far as the eye could see all the way to the sea wall.  As detailed in our April 2009 preview of this project, a major part of this mission was to not only bring distinctive New Orleans rhythms and songs to this festival in collaboration with the Gnawa, but most specifically to bring Black Indian (or Mardi Gras Indian if you prefer) traditions to Morocco.  Take note of the colorful costuming of the Gnawa in photos above and later in this piece.  Clearly the injection of "masking" (as the rich Black Indian costuming traditions of New Orleans are referered to in NOLA) Indians in collaboration with the Gnawa presents at the very least the prospects of a grand and glorious mosaic of costumes.  When we were laying the groundwork for this project last fall over lunch one afternoon at Mothers on Canal Street, Big Chief Donald Harrison was very clear in his contention that he had long ago determined that masking and playing the saxophone were entirely too arduous to sustain for an entire performance, and never the twain shall meet, so Donald didn’t bring one of his Indian suits.  (Later he was mildly regretful of that omission when he experienced the opening festival parade.)  Instead the plan was for his two percussionists, Shaka Zulu and Gerald French, both members of separate Indian sects, to mask.  The best laid plans… on arrival in Morocco Gerald was deeply dismayed to find that Royal Air Maroc had lost his costume case!  Fortunately Shaka’s suit was recovered.


As had been the case at Chez Kebir the preceeding evening, Congo Nation (Harrison, Brooks, Shaka, French, and the brilliant, precocious young rhythm section of NOCCA grads, bassist Max Moran, keyboardist Conun Pappas, and drummer Joseph Dyson) opened the proceedings with a short set that evolved from Donald’s "Ain’t No Party Like a New Orleans Party", through a now-more refined Michael Jackson tribute to the Indian chant "Hu-Ta-Nay."  They remained in place as the Gnawa ensemble took the stage and played a couple of their traditional songs.  What followed was a kinetic collaboration that successfully melded the distinctive Gnawa rhythms and traditional songs seamlessly with New Orleans tradition, the likes of "Big Chief", "Hey Pocky Way," and assorted improvisations from Congo Nation.  The set reached an additional peak when Shaka strode offstage and got in costume, masking in vivid green. 


Shaka Zulu masking onstage with the Gnawa


In the ensuing days Donald Harrison was interviewed by all manner of print and electronic journalists from across the globe, including New Zealand, France, Spain, the BBC, sub-Saharan Africa and several parts of Morocco.  We’re working towards producing a radio documentary of this project once additonal funding is in place, to originate at WPFW in DC and be carried by fellow community radio stations WWOZ (New Orleans), and KFAI (Minneapolis-St. Paul).  As they say in radio parlance…  Stay tuned!


In true Crescent City spirit, Jason Patterson had the good sense to bring along a bag of Mardi Gras beads towards the end of the set; the Gnawa quickly got in the spirit and grabbed some beads to toss.  That’s yours truly, back turned in white with red hat tossing beads to a delighted crowd that soon got in the Mardi Gras spirit of "the catch", alongside members of the Gnawa ensemble and Shaka Zulu 

(All photos are by Suzan Jenkins.)




Donald Harrison (red jacket) and members of Congo Nation checking out the Gnawa set that followed their opening set, preceding the collaboration.

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Mr. PC pt 2

Here’s Part 2 of the collected wit & wisdom of Seattle-based pianist-composer-bandleader Bill Anschell.
For more of Mr. P.C.’s wisdom, visit his Facebook page:
To receive each new post directly from Mr. P.C., or to send him your own etiquette question, email him at

Dear Mr. P.C.:

My group was playing in a remote South American town for people who had never heard jazz before. We were billed as a jazz trio, and after the show one of the audience members asked me, “Who is Jazz?” What should I have said?

— Howard In The Tropics
Dear HINT:

Jazz is slippery. It carries no passport or credit cards, and refuses to reveal its name at hotel check-in. Hiding from authorities, it can take on any physical form it chooses — from Wynton Marsalis to John Zorn, from Pat Metheny to Kenny G. Its diet is high in alcohol and THC, and it often smells rank. Jazz has no fixed name; it’s a psychopath, changing identities faster than you can say “harmolodic funk.”

So who is jazz? For the time being, apparently, it’s my next door neighbor Bob, a ruddy tugboat captain who keeps building weird additions to his house. Go figure.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

When people use big words to describe their music, is that supposed to make it better? Like I know a bassist who says he’s “contextualizing” his music. Why does he do that? — Bassist Uses Lofty Language

Dear BULL:

He’s practicing Grantspeak, of course. Here’s the story: A few decades ago, granting agencies grudgingly started funding jazz projects. But how can their panelists judge the applications when they know nothing about jazz music?

Well, what they ARE comfortable judging is intellect, so they depend on jazz artists to put it on full display. That’s why savvy applicants like your bassist friend keep their eye on the prize and practice at every opportunity. In fact, if you’d stuck around a little longer you might have even seen him go from contextualizing to “re-contextualizing.” Bank!

Although grantors were the original targets of Grantspeak, its use has become more widespread. Other people in positions of power in the jazz world — especially presenters and journalists — have proven equally susceptible to its charms. And it’s even starting to influence artists, not only in their music, but also in their interactions:

Andrew: “Hey, Bob, what’s happening?”
Bob: “You know, just shedding, trying to keep my chops up. How about you?”
Andrew: Actually, in my new multidisciplinary song cycle, based on a contemporary reading of recovered scripts from the earliest matriarchal societies, I’m re-examining the relationship between soloist and ensemble, looking for ways to evoke a more egalitarian, communal paradigm.”
Bob (embarrassed): “Cool. Um, guess I’ll go practice Stablemates.”
Andrew (silently): “Heh, heh, heh.”

People ask where jazz is heading, BULL, and I can answer definitively: Grantspeak is the future! Not only as a descriptive language, but as a quasi-paradigmatic, non-idiomatic re-contextualization of jazz itself. Buy your thesaurus now, before you and your music are left behind!

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I just went on YouTube and found out there’s a really crappy video of me playing with some lame musicians. I got pretty upset. Is there really nothing I can do about it? — Fred T., Boston

Dear Fred:

Of course there’s something you can do: Stop dwelling on the negative, and pay a visit to your happy place!

Mine is the memory of a special moment early in my career. I was playing a solo gig as a volunteer at the local psychiatric institution when a middle-aged woman ran into the room, her mouth sealed by duct tape. She sat close to me on the piano bench, fragrant with medication, and began furiously attempting to sing. Duct tape isn’t shed easily, but she was so moved by my playing that one side of her mouth eventually broke free. It turned out that she was improvising her own lyrics, a combination of the Gettysburg Address and the Book of Job. I went right there with her, bursting into passionate free improvisation that became her underscore.

Before I knew it, she tried to kiss me, and her mouth got stuck to the side of my face. It was the first time I’d ever seduced a woman with my playing, and I realized I was blessed with a powerful gift; one that I was obliged to share with man/womynkind. I didn’t even mind our eventual painful separation, though it did rip a layer of skin from my cheek.

How strange and enchanting that the two of us, both destined for groundbreaking careers, should meet in this chance encounter! I, of course, parlayed my interests in psychology and music to become the therapist so many of you depend on. She headed east with her duct tape, took the stage name of Thorazine, and was the toast of New York’s performance art community before a rehearsal mishap led to her untimely suffocation.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I was playing at a club in town, a pretty fancy place, the gig all the guys in town want. On the break a pretty woman in the audience came up to me and complimented my playing. So far so good! But then she asked if I play professionally — right in the middle of a gig! What should I have said? — John G., Denver

Dear John:

You should be flattered! Obviously she was attracted to you and just wanted to make sure you have some other, more viable source of income. Like being a realtor, or an insurance salesman, or whatever it is you actually do for a living.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I bought an acoustic bass guitar that you can also plug in and my son and I have been playing a lot of pop songs together taking turns on the bass and guitar. I know this is a stereotype that upsets bassists and I’m sure it’s hard to play really well, but… it does seem pretty f’ing easy to play the root or maybe a little more and sound okay. It’s also very fun. — Andrew

Dear Andrew:

Well, you’re half right. Playing simple roots on the downbeat can be easy, but it’s not fun. How can it be fun when almost anyone can do it?

Frankly, so called “simple pleasures” have no place in jazz bass, or in jazz itself, for that matter. What is more profoundly fun is playing busy lines of dizzying harmonic and rhythmic complexity. That’s what motivates bassists through a lifetime of desperate practicing, for they are the jazz world’s true hedonists.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

Did you ever say anything about people undercutting each other? There’s a gig where I live, and it used to pay $100 a man for three hours, and then a guy who doesn’t play very well offered the owner to do it for $60 a man. Seems like the bread will keep going down and never go up. How does that work? Are we doomed? — Undercut Player

Dear UP:

If lesser musicians didn’t offer to play for less money, everyone would be paid the same. While that achieves some admirable egalitarian ideals, it’s not really fair to the best players, is it? This “guy who doesn’t play very well” is showing amazing graciousness and humility by volunteering to play for less. You should be grateful to him, not only for knowing his place, but for helping establish a pay scale that recognizes and rewards excellence.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

On a recent trip into the city I attended a master class by a well-known jazz guitarist. At one point he claimed that it is our limitations that truly define us. I have read about this kind of thing before so the idea was not entirely new to me, yet hearing him say it so clearly was inspiring. I really would like your opinion on this as I have more limitations than most and feel ready to take advantage of that in a big way. I gave notice at the local middle school where I teach P.E. and have packed my drums but am now having doubts. Please help! — Walter “Sig” Mathews, Milepost 17, State Route 4, Tulelake, CA

Dear Sig:

Milepost 17 – I’ve totally been there! It wasn’t in Tulelake, but I remember it vividly. It was just outside of Eagle, Idaho, a few miles before the VFW hall where I had a gig. Inside the hall, in the men’s bathroom, they had decorated the urinal with a drawing of Jane Fonda’s face, so that each user had no choice but to direct the stream into her mouth. I remember wondering: Was her acting really so bad? Distracted by that thought, and rushing to make the downbeat, I started urinating before I realized what I was doing. Could I stop, mid-stream? Hardly — I don’t have superpowers! But I’ve never forgiven myself, to this day.

Why was I urinating so hurriedly? You see, my arrival at the Elks club — and with it, my subsequent defiling of Jane’s image—had been delayed at Milepost 17, where I struck a deer. Was it my fault or the deer’s? Oh, how I’d love to blame the deer! Then I’d at least have a partner in the blame for what I did to Jane. But, alas, I’ll never know.

The poor bloodied deer, involuntarily quivering in the harsh glare of my headlights. The crude, glistening drawing of Jane Fonda, desecrated by an endless procession of war-hardened veterans… That’s my Milepost 17, a nightmare that will haunt me to my dying day. Your Milepost 17 apparently involves some light wordplay about limitations and definitions. Forgive me, Sig, if I have trouble pretending to care.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I was in the audience at a jam session. My back was to the stage, and I couldn’t believe how long a solo the tenor player took. He played like watered down Coltrane, a sound I’m used to nowadays. Then I turned around and realized I’d heard three different tenor players who all sounded the same. Why do they all do that? — Roger Overandout

Dear Roger:

If tenor players didn’t all sound the same, how would they be able to find subs? This way, when a pianist who sounds like watered down McCoy needs a tenor player who sounds like watered down Trane, the bench is deep.

And “watered down” isn’t a negative — if Trane were still alive, at 88, he would sound like watered down Trane too. The sax players you heard value historical accuracy, while a player who sounds like Trane at the peak of his career is nothing but a thoughtless knock-off.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

What is meant by the term “Post-Bop”? Since “bop” ended in the 1950s, isn’t everything since then technically “post-bop”? — T.M. in Seattle

Dear T.M.:

It sure is, and that’s great news to anyone worried that jazz is becoming irrelevant. What better solution than to be massively inclusive, the biggest of all big tents!

Taylor Swift? Post-bop! Rice a Roni? Post-bop! Donald Trump? Post-bop! Post-modernism? Post-bop!

Sure, pop, rock and country outsell jazz fifty to one, but we know the post-bop truth — we own them.

The post-bop world belongs to jazz!

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I have heard the song “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing,” and have several questions:

Does the word “ain’t” have a place in such a musical masterpiece?
Why would a composer write such double negatives?
What does it mean if it does have that swing? — Stuck Wondering If Negatives Groove


Although Ellington has received plenty of recognition as a composer and pianist, he’s sadly overlooked as an existential philosopher. When he says “It Don’t Mean a Thing If it Ain’t Got That Swing,” he’s telling us that a musician who isn’t swinging — or perhaps even a swinging musician when he’s off the bandstand — is plunged into meaninglessness.

“What Am I Here For?” Duke asked, but a part of him knew that there was music, and nothing more. That explains how terribly prolific he was, shadowed by the fear that the moment he put down his pen or took his hands off the keys, a life well-lived would come to nothing.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I just played a gig with a bad banjo player. I spent a lot of time learning the music, and the gig went fine. My problem is that now I can’t get that music out of my head. It’s killing me! What am I supposed to do? — Troubled in Tallahassee

Dear Troubled:

Unfortunately, offensive music in your head can only be displaced by music that’s more offensive — that’s how the banjo music got in there to begin with. So if you really want to get rid of it you could always listen to bagpipes or kazoos, but at some point you’ll have to ask yourself: “Could I face death with this as my final soundtrack?”

For now, a better question is this: How and why, in the course of evolution, did humans develop a predilection toward filling their heads with painful music? The answer: If their heads were instead filled with beautiful sounds, humans would become complacent, content to sit idly and enjoy their internal concerti. Bad music motivates humans to take action, even if their march forward is just a desperate attempt to escape, their heads ringing with escalating sounds insufferable.

It’s a bleak commentary on existence — mankind forever in motion, running from increasingly torturous music that finally proves inescapable. Unfortunately, that’s the formula for progress; on the brighter side, death becomes something no longer to be feared.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

When we’re playing a “background music” gig and the crowd is so loud there’s no way they can hear us, and we can’t even hear ourselves, does it matter what we play? — Invisible Dan

Dear Dan:

Jazz is all about responding, in the moment, to the sounds around you, right? To do otherwise is dishonest and untrue to the art form. So of course it matters what you play; you need to play the music of not being able to hear yourself, music of frustration, rage and — above all — inaudibility.

Liberated from burdens like intonation, note selection, tone quality and time, you can focus instead on creating music that fully deserves not to be heard.

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The realities of jazz festival presentation

I read a Facebook post from a very well-meaning person who works on the media/publicist side of jazz. The post posed a pretty old question, one that has been hashed and re-hashed now for decades. In posting a link to the talent lineup of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the poster asked how such a festival could continue to fly the jazz flag in its name, given that NOJ&HF is well-known for presenting a broad spectrum of music, jazz being just one of those flavors. Initially I responded that NOJ&HF has such a significant jazz presenting menu, what with the robust offerings of the WWOZ Jazz Tent and the Economy Hall space presenting so much traditional jazz, I have no problem with the name game.

The more I thought about the many misconceptions of this nature, including my own work in festival presenting/producing, I felt it necessary to also post the following thoughts:

One of the hard lessons to be learned from jazz festival presentation is that unless you are fortunate enough to benefit from some significantly large subsidy, one that is sufficient enough to cover artist fees, production costs and all the myriad costs associated with producing a jazz festival, and that subsidy is significant enough to enable you to present your festival free of charge (and here it appears Matt Merewitz may be seduced by his Chicago Jazz Festival experience) you are going to have to leaven your talent lineup with artists who make sense for your community and who will attract “the masses” to come hear the more uncompromising artistic segment of your event. That part is something folks seem to have a difficult time understanding but it is a pure fact of festival production life! Many of us in the festival presenting sector strive to at least make those artists we present in order to attract mass audiences, at least be extensions of the jazz tradition whose music is in some substantive way informed by jazz. But these are the often times harsh realities of presenting a jazz festival.

What’s your take? And after you read this, please scroll down for musician-educator Paul Carr‘s take on producing the annual Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, coming up the weekend of February 17 in suburban DC.

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It’s that time: Mid Atlantic Jazz Festival ’17

It’s February, time for the East Coast’s #1 winter jazz festival, the annual Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival. Annually, on President’s Day Weekend (this year February 17-19) the MAJF takes over the Hilton Hotel in Rockville, MD in true jazz party atmosphere. Given the venue and its multiple performance spaces, MAJF boasts a dedicated audience that motors in from around the region – and often from beyond – for three days and nights of great jazz, including free, all-day rotating performances by top high school and collegiate jazz ensembles on a lower lobby level stage.

One of the hallmarks of the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival is that it is produced by one of the DMV’s leading musician-educators, tenor & soprano saxophonist and prolific recording artist Paul Carr, director of the Jazz Academy of Music jazz education program, and his wife Karmen Carr. In case you’re not hip, here’s the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival deal in Paul Carr’s own words:

Paul Carr blowing some goodness with stellar vocalist Sharon Clark, in performance at the 2016 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival. [Photo by Tyrone Kenney/NeoBop]

How did the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival first come into existence?
PAUL CARR: The Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival (MAFJ) is presented in the true spirit and intent of the former East Coast Jazz Festival (ECJF). Founded in 1992 by vocalist/vocal educator Ronnie Wells, for the next 15 years the ECJF was produced by and benefited The Fish Middleton Jazz Scholarship Fund, Inc. (FMJS). ECJF was originally created in honor of Elmore “Fish” Middleton, a Washington, DC jazz radio programmer, whose commitment to promoting jazz music and supporting emerging jazz artists became the guiding principle behind the festival. I was in Ronnie’s band and I served as one of the judges for the annual Fish Middleton Scholarship competition. Those were great times and I learned a lot. For 15 years, up until Ms. Wells passing on to ancestry in March, 2007, she and her husband and co-founder, pianist-educator Ron Elliston presented the ECJF. The festival ultimately became a mid-winter tradition in the Washington, DC metro region. In 2009, Suzan Jenkins, CEO of the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, held a series of meetings to discuss how we could bring back the East Coast Jazz Festival. -During these spring meetings, it was determined that it would easier structure-wise for the Jazz Academy Of Music to produce the “new” festival.

I founded and established the 501c3 Jazz Academy Of Music in 2002 and we have year-round education programs for school age students. I really missed the ECJF, and it having been gone only two years following Ronnie’s passing. I was already teaching kids that had never heard of the festival. Having a jazz festival that features jazz education is vital for the future of the music in so many ways. So I wanted give it a try, but I had to go home and sell it to the boss, Karmen, my wife. Lol! Once Karmen agreed, I knew the festival had a chance. We changed the name to Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival to mark a new start in the same tradition.

What’s it been like for a working musician-educator to serve as a jazz festival artistic director?
Being the Artistic Director of MAJF I think is fun, but really, really tough. MAJF does not have a big sponsor or a lot of really generous small sponsors, so that means we can’t absorb too many artistic blunders. So when I’m considering artists for the festival, things like artist’s marquis value, educational value, and budget, have to be factored in as well. There are so many artists that I want to present and hope to present but the timing and situation must be right. Also being a musician and educator myself, I can’t let my personal feelings get in the way of the job of artistic director. The loyal patrons of MAJF and the students are top of mind at all times. I have experienced a couple of artistic blunders, but it’s really cool when a set you put together does well or much better than you expected. 🙂

Curating the festival is a year-round task and it’s always kinda on your mind, even when it’s not. For instance, I can be in a music store and see something we could use for the high school big band competition on sale, so I’ll get it. Or someone will call you at 10:00 pm at night in the middle of the summer with some great or not so great advice about the festival. Because I’m playing and teaching so much, I try to take a month off after the festival, then start working on the following year.

Having done artistic direction work myself for over two decades, I have to ask what lessons a working musician like yourself has learned in that role?
Wow, the things I have learned dealing with artists and agents have been very enlightening, to say the least. I really appreciate artists who have a sense of history and community about the music. Realizing that keeping this great American art form presented and taught in a certain way is what is most important. I recognize that the jazz audience is small compared to other more accessible forms of music, and that all jazz artists must help cultivate and grow that audience. The handful of agents I have worked with since I began producing MAJF have been helpful for the most part. I really appreciate the agents that realize that all situations and all gigs don’t pay the same. 🙂 So in turn, when I’m asked to perform and/or teach, I consider the source, intentions and who might I connect with.

What kind of artistic balance do you strive to achieve with MAJF?
The artistic balance I’m trying to achieve when putting together the MAJF is to have a place for every type of jazz fan, young, old, hardcore, novice, every ethnicity, republican, democrat, independent… coming together under one roof to enjoy jazz. So the artists performing, the educational offerings, world class vendors, and panel discussions are all selected with the celebration of jazz and its community in mind.

One of the performance hallmarks of any Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival has been your annual Summit meeting, where you bring together musicians of a common instrument and have them play off of each other with the same rhythm section. Talk about putting those together.
The summits at MAJF have been a hit since day one. This year’s Guitar Summit promises to be another. The MAJF summits are not cutting contests like the ones that have been a part of jazz since the 30’s, but there’s an underlying unspoken vibe which is that’s exactly what it is. Lol! Jazz fans and musicians alike enjoy a good “Summit”. Seriously, all of our Summits have musically operated at the highest level, that’s why our patrons love them. Also, anytime you have three titans of an instrument on stage at the same time, sparks fly. I consider this year’s Guitar Summit participants, Russell Malone, Bobby Broom and Paul Bollenback to be jazz masters and I’m certain that’ll be a set not to be missed!

Here’s one of The Jazz Video Guy’s jazz editorial posts with some performance scenes from the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival:

Did this video in 2010.

Posted by Bret Primack on Sunday, January 29, 2017

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A compendium of Mr. PC’s wit & wisdom

Seattle-based pianist Bill Anschell and I go back to our days fighting the good fights on behalf of jazz and jazz musicians as arts administrators tasked with developing efforts on behalf of service to the jazz community from our respective regional arts organizations – he at Southern Arts Federation in Atlanta, me at Arts Midwest in Minneapolis. Among Bill’s many achievements from that perch were a superb series of CD compilations highlighting the many unsung heroes and s-heroes of jazz in the southeast. Since relocating to Seattle Bill has concentrated professionally on his pianistic exploits, as a successful bandleader and recording artist, where you can find his releases on the Origin label. Always blessed with a keen sense of humor and an ability to spin out various witticisms in print, more recently Bill has been chronicling that wit in a series of “Mr. P.C.” posts on his website. So consider this the first of a multi-part compendium of the wit & wisdom of Mr. P.C.

For more of Mr. P.C.’s wisdom, visit his Facebook page:
To receive each new post directly from Mr. P.C., or to send him your own etiquette question, email him at

Dear Mr. P.C.:
What’s with the joke, “More cowbell”? I got to watch a jazz recording session, and the musicians kept saying it to the engineer, then everyone would laugh. Does jazz even use a cowbell? – David T., New Orleans

Dear David:
Not all jazz is bucolic, but certainly much of the music on the ECM label fits that description. So, while you might not hear a cowbell in the music of, say, John Coltrane’s Impulse years, it would be entirely appropriate in the more pastoral music of Keith Jarrett. For me, his standards trio often evokes imagery of a cow leisurely chewing its cud on a lush green field, its bell gently tolling with the mastication. I’ve often wondered why Jack DeJohnette doesn’t lay down a cowbell groove on some of their tunes, or why Jarrett doesn’t expand the group to a quartet, with a dedicated cowbellist. Or cowbeller. Or whatever. He probably just hasn’t thought of it, so I’ll bet he’d love it if you brought a cowbell to one of his concerts and started jamming along with his solos.

Dear Mr. P.C.:
I wrote you in October telling you about my ankle pain, and asking if it might count as enough suffering to make me soulful. Your answer was, “Only if it can’t be fully controlled by over-the-counter-medication.” That was really helpful, and it sent me on quite a journey.

I tried Advil, Tylenol, Aleve, and traditional aspirin, and none of them helped. Ka-ching! Over-the-counter-medication couldn’t control my pain!!! So I got a prescription for Oxycodone, and it didn’t help either. I figured I needed to increase the dosage, and my bassist was able to hook me up. Now he also sells me Valium to help me sleep. As it turns out, not only does my ankle still hurt, but my life is unraveling. Might I have soul now? — Duane, Detroit

Dear Duane:
I think you’re heading down the right path, but keep in mind that the truly tragic – and soulful – historical figures in jazz would already have added booze to the mix; that’s a no-brainer. And don’t worry about the warnings on the labels, saying not to mix this medication with that, or with alcohol, or with the operation of heavy machinery. They’re written by pharmaceutical lawyers; soulless corporate tools who wouldn’t recognize the Blues if it wore a nametag and had a firm handshake.

Soulless Pharmaceutical Tool: “And what company do you work for?”

The Blues: “I don’t work for a company. I’m an expression of loss and yearning.”

Soulless Pharmaceutical Tool (hiding disappointment): “Ah, well, if you ever need large quantities of labels warning against mixing alcohol and anti-convulsants…” (hands the Blues a business card, heads to the bar for a refill).

And if you want to take it all the way, Duane, why not top off your “soul cocktail” with the most storied self-medication of all — heroin? Jazz lore tells us that no spiritual enema is really complete without it.

Just one note of caution: As I advise all my readers, I recommend you avoid caffeine, red meat, and gluten.

Dear Mr. P.C:
I’m about to travel with my group (a pianist, bassist and drummer), to a gig in a really remote area. I’m wondering: If we somehow get stranded and eventually run out of food — a la the Donner Party — which guy should I eat first? –Chuck D., Seattle

Dear Chuck:
You’re kidding, right? Because, thankfully, most jazz musicians nowadays are vegetarians. But, okay, let’s assume you’re one of the carnivore holdouts. Imagine you’re at the butcher’s, and consider the cut of meat:
Jazz musicians, regardless of instrument, are underfed, overworked, and stressed. One meal off the buffet at a gig (plus whatever they can stuff in their pockets) has to hold them for days. It gives them just enough body mass to lug their heavy gear up steep stairwells, and just enough nourishment to practice frenetically between gigs. They’re gaunt, their flesh dry and stringy. As for the taste: Just think about the smell! At best, a rancid commingling of smoke, alcohol and sweat. No amount of hot sauce would make it okay.

By contrast, consider opera divas. Confined to small conservatory practice rooms, trotted out only occasionally for concert hall performances, plumped up to fill out the plus-sized bodices of their costumes, they are the veal of the music world. And they’re oh so flavorful, too — always freshly showered, lightly powdered and sweetly perfumed.

If, God forbid, you are forced into cannibalism, don’t eat one of your fellow jazz musicians; eat the opera singer. And if you’re taking a trip through potentially dangerous terrain, be sure to pack her along with your flashlight, blankets, and potable water.

Dear Mr. P.C.:
I can’t figure out what jazz artists are thinking when they play a piece by one of the Great American Songbook composers like Gershwin or Porter. It sounds to me like they play it correctly, then they go crazy for five or ten minutes, then they play it correctly again. That’s two minutes of good music surrounding a much longer bout of insanity, and for me it’s really not worth it. Am I missing something? — Melody, Please!

Dear Melody:
Imagine you were invited to deliver the eulogy at a famous poet’s funeral. You might open by reading one of his or her poems, then extemporize on your own experiences with his or her poetry, then conclude with another of his or her poems.

Well, like that poet, composers of the Great American Songbook are all – for lack of a better word – dead. And jazz artists happen to be a highly reverential lot. Each performance of a “standard” is, in fact, a musical eulogy. The musicians start with a solemn reading, interpreting the dead composer’s melody, sticking respectfully close to it. Then they improvise, spinning original lines within the dead composer’s form and harmony. This “insanity,” as you call it, is actually the jazz artists’ genius, and there could be no deeper, more heartfelt testimonial to the dead composer. Some jazz musicians are so moved by the dead composer’s death that they solo for twenty minutes or longer, screeching and honking with animal noises from deep within, channeling the bereft widow’s heart-wrenching wail as the dead composer’s casket was lowered into the earth many years ago.

Once the outpouring is complete and catharsis achieved, the artists then conclude, more soberly, with a restatement of the dead composer’s melody; a final heartfelt tribute. It’s all really very simple, if a bit morbid.

Dear Mr. P.C.:
I’ve noticed that when a lot of the younger groups rearrange a standard or pop song, they take out a beat here and there. It keeps me off guard and if I don’t count I lose track of the downbeat. But that’s fine. What I’m wondering is: Where do those beats go? — Beats Are Missing

Dear BAM:
It’s horrible to say, but this is simply the thinning of the species; natural selection favoring the beats that matter most, at the expense of those proven to be expendable. Oh, to believe in Intelligent Design, that benevolent fairy tale glossing over the destruction of the weak and defenseless! But, no, my belief system offers no such consolation; these superfluous beats will someday be entirely extinct, thoughtlessly offed by young composers yet to develop a musical conscience.

What does this mean for the future of jazz? 4/4 time will no longer be the standard; first 3/4, then 2/4 will eventually rise to the fore, with sporadic dropped beats continuing to mark the music’s evolution. The brutal process will continue until there’s just one beat left; a powerful and utterly adaptable beat, granted, but one that in itself will appeal to only the cruelest and most simple-minded among us. Which, conveniently, may be the only humans left by then anyway.

Bill Anschell’s latest recording, RUMBLER, on the Origin label…

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Visit Bill Anschell, aka Mr. PC, online at For music samples, short stories, and calendar of upcoming gigs.

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