Sunday, April 10, 2011

Inside the Drummer's Studio Installment 3

Hey everybody,
Today I'm interviewing Pianist/Composer/Journalist Peter Hum.
Here's a picture of him:

...and here's some bio information.....

Based in Ottawa, Peter has played with the leading jazz artists in Canada's capital, including John Geggie, Rob Frayne, Mike Essoudry, Roddy Ellias, Vince Rimbach and Mike Tremblay. He considers himself very fortunate to have performed with some of Canada's leading jazz artists, including Sonny Greenwich, Pat LaBarbera, Phil Nimmons, Reg Schwager, Kelly Jefferson, Johnny Scott, Mike Allen and Mike Rud.

As I mentioned before, Peter also is a journalist with the Ottawa citizen and writes an excellent blog for them. You can check it out here.

Considering Peter's range of experience as a musician, blogger, etc., I thought it would be instructive to ask him a few questions. I found his answers to be very illuminating and I hope you do too.

1. You're a journalist, musician, blogger, as well as a husband and father. How do you juggle the many roles you have in your busy life?

The short answer is that I don't need that much sleep and I don't watch much TV.

During my 9-to-5 life, about 80 per cent of my time is devoted to journalistic chores – reporting and writing, editing, choosing what stories and pictures go where for certain sections and pages, and very lightly managing some colleagues. But unless I'm working on a big story, none of the chores takes up a big chunk of time. So each work day usually consists of many small chores, and in between themI find time to blog.

That said, I listen to a ton of music at home, in the car, before I go to bed, while on vacation, while I'm doing those journalism chores, and so on. So the listening kind of blurs in with everything else. For example, I was at my boy's bedside at the hospital last month while he recovered from eye surgery. He was sleeping off the anesthetic, and my wife was getting a bite to eat in the hospital cafeteria. So I pulled out my iPod and listened to some of the new CD from Nordic Connect, the band that includes the Jensen sisters. There's a Christine Jensen song, a slow lyrical waltz called Yew, that hit me – its vibe was right in line with the relief I was feeling that my son's operation was over. I gave the CD a good review – but for other reasons too.

The blog, which I volunteered to do back in early 2008, has added a lot of work to my life. But my job satisfaction has also increased. No one's forcing me to, but I blog like crazy, because it's in line with my daily newspaper grounding. I also get a small, subversive pleasure from blogging each day -- it would be unthinkable to have so many words about jazz in the newspaper, but there I am, banging off all that jazz-related copy under the radar of all my colleagues.

Being a musician, unfortunately, comes after being a newspaper guy and a blogger, and after being a husband and father. Upcoming gigs and projects dictate how much time I spend at the keyboard in the basement, which is usually in the morning or at night. These days, I'm happy to say that I have some new tunes in the works.

It sometimes crosses my mind – when various deadlines come together -- that I've got too much on the go, but I'd be unsatisfied if I did less. I'm sure that everyone else also grapples with balancing work and everything else, anyway.

2. Has your role as a music reviewer had an effect on your own music? How?

On the plus side, I've been inundated with new jazz CDs – free! -- for at least the last decade and a half. So I can never complain about a shortage of stuff to check out. Trying to make sense of all the discs and concerts has definitely helped to focus my own musical priorities.

Of course, reviewing is not the same as transcribing or really delving into someone else's music. All I need to do is to come up with something that I think is accurate and reasonable in assessing the CD for readers – two or three listens will do, more if I'm not so keen on the music. In exceptional cases, certain discs have prompted me to listen in a more technical way, usually with an ear open for compositional and arranging details.

Apart from the reviewing, I've found interviews I've done with musicians have been motivating or left strong impressions – almost like lessons, perhaps. Conversations and even e-mail exchanges I've had with Herbie Hancock, Jon Cowherd, Marc Copland, David Braid, Aaron Parks and Frank Kimbrough were pretty rewarding.

On the minus side, I've been inundated with new jazz CDs – free! -- and despite all the pleasures and stimulation from that music, I do wish it didn't keep me away from the piano quite so much.

3. What can young musicians learn from journalists in terms of how to deal with the press?

What press? After he won his Juno last month, John MacLeod kidded: “No one covers jazz right now.” Since Mark Miller and Geoff Chapman retired, there's been less jazz coverage in the Toronto papers, I think. Paul Wells doesn't write about jazz much anymore. Marke Andrews left the Vancouver Sun. Len Dobbin's left us. My impression is that the Canadian newspaper folks who regularly write about jazz are me, Chris Smith at the Winnipeg Free Press, Roger Levesque for the Edmonton Journal, Irwin Block at the Gazette, and Adrian Chamberlain at the Victoria Times-Colonist. And generally, we're only writing about musicians if they're coming to town. I guess there is the alternative press, and magazines like The Whole Note and CODA, and of course, the blogosphere, for better or for worse.

For musicians who contact journalists – rather than hire a pro to do that -- I have a few tips. The first, which perhaps applies more to dealing with newspapers, is to directly contact the writer on the jazz or music beat if possible, rather than the arts editor or assignment editor or any more general point of contact. In my experience, reporters want to pitch and work on their own ideas, rather than stories that are assigned. Also, it helps if you're as familiar as possible with the ways in which the newspaper (or magazine or website) packages its information, so that you can suggest what can written or reported, be it a recommendation for the gig on a “critics' picks page,” an advance feature leading up to a gig, or a review of the gig or of your CD. If you can pitch in a concrete way, or raise a range of possibilities, then you've done some of the thinking for the poor, overworked journalist. Finally, I'll mention that it's a good idea to build in a lot of lead time when you pitch – contact the media early, say three weeks or a month in advance, at least, of a gig or CD release.

And then there's a musician's Internet presence. I can recommend having a nice simple website that prioritizes what the press needs (a clean bio, downloadable photos in high and low res, music samples), in addition to what fans and potential customers would want. Of course, everyone is using Facebook, Twitter and their own blogs to establish their Internet presences and network too. That kind of stuff is a must these days, although I am mindful of a few musicians who are considerably heavier at their Net-based self-promotion than they are when it comes to playing, and I think that's a danger.

4. As a piano player, you never seem to have a problem with what I would categorize as "boisterous" drumming. How have you reconciled this with the fact that piano often has trouble competing with the volume of the drums?

Well, I've always viewed boisterous drumming very positively!

I was very fortunate that in my early days of playing, my key experiences were with Chris McCann in Kingston, and then with you and Dave Laing and Dave Robbins in Montreal. You were all very influential in terms of what I enjoy hearing from the drums – great, personal time feels, that going-for-it vibe, lots of interaction, and lots of boisterousness. At the same time, the music that I loved most usually featured Elvin Jones, Tony Williams or Art Blakey – very overt, play-it-like-you-mean-it musicians. More recently, I've driven great distances to see gigs featuring Bill Stewart and Brian Blade.

OK, in some instances boisterous drumming has made it harder for listeners to hear the piano – I do feel sorry for McCoy having to project with Elvin and Rashied Ali. But me, I can't recall asking a drummer to play less or play more quietly. Crucially, the drummers were good, musical ones, and that intensity from the drums felt good to me and was warranted. The soloist was usually generating the pull that elicited an intense reaction from not just the drums, but from everybody playing. By consensus, the music wanted to go where it did.

As much as I love playing ballads and quiet but intense stuff, I want the music to reach the point where it makes a visceral, urgent bond between the band and the listeners... and boisterous drumming certainly helps.

5. Can you name a live performance and recording that has had a profound effect on you?

The most recent show that hit me really hard was when I saw the Brian Blade Fellowship for the first time. Four of us drove from Ottawa to see the band at the Village Vanguard in 2008, and I was so impressed (all of us were, I think) for a number of reasons. The group's vibe, which takes its lead from Brian, was so deep and positive. Not surprisingly, the crowd was totally enthralled, reacting to the music with whoops and exhortations – the concert was a communal experience that really united the musicians and the listeners. I was paying attention to musical details too – how songs were arranged, how certain pieces were structured to create longer journeys. I wrote at length about the concert here:

I think some of the shows that affected me most profoundly were the ones that I saw early on in my jazz-fan days. I have more sentimental memories of concerts that I saw when I was in high school and university: Sonny Rollins and Jack DeJohnette at the Astrolabe in Ottawa, Red Rodney and Ira Sullivan at the Cock and Lion in Ottawa, Keith Jarrett with Jack and Gary in Toronto, Quest in Toronto, maybe on the very next night. I'm also happy that I got to see some great musicians before they passed, like Woody Shaw a few times, Jaco Pastorius with his Word of Mouth band, Joe Farrell and Zoot Sims.

As for recordings, I'm similarly sentimental when it comes to the big jazz-fusion and ECM albums from the late 1970s: Herbie Hancock's Headhunters, Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert, My Song and Survivors Suite, the Pat Metheny Group white album, Weather Report's Heavy Weather, Chick Corea's My Spanish Heart. They're deeply embedded in my memory. When I was a little older, Miles Davis' My Funny Valentine and Wayne Shorter's Blue Note CDs – Speak No Evil especially – were very big for me. I'm one of those guys for whom Herbie can do almost no wrong.

But to pick music that might not be everyone else's lists, l'll name two that made a big impression on me when I in high school. I took them out of the Nepean Public Library, which is to say almost at random. I really liked the Dexter Gordon album Bouncin' With Dex. I remember thinking that Dexter's sound was special, and that Tete Monteliu was so energetic and playful. Another album that really cast a spell was Kenny Wheeler's Gnu High, which I surely latched on to because Keith Jarrett was on it. But even back then, Kenny's writing and playing really caught my interest. I thought then Smatter was just the coolest thing, and I still do.

6. Should I have used affect in that last question? (Peter was an English major even before he was a journalism student.)


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