Saxophonist John Doheny was born in Seattle Washington in 1953 but has spent much of his adult life in Canada, primarily in Vancouver and Toronto. After early experiences accompanying strippers in bars and cabarets he became a professional R&B sideman in the late 1970s, touring and recording with artists both prominent and obscure. In 1991 he returned to Vancouver and began a program of intense musical study, both in academe (Vancouver Community College, the University of British Columbia) and in the more informal area of performance. He asserts that "all human intercourse is either an opportunity to learn or to teach. Everything that I know about jazz performance (to the extent that I know anything at all) I owe to those players, teachers and students who have suffered to share the bandstand and the teaching studio with me." Since 2003, Mr. Doheny has been a permanent resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, but makes every effort to spend summers in Canada because "it's too damn hot down here then."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Monk, Terence Blanchard, Clinics, ICMC, and My Dinner with Andrew Walters.

It’s been a helluva month, and I’m just now getting my head up. Last week Tulane hosted the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC). The conference theme was “Multidimensionality.” Two junior faculty members, Tae-Hong Park and Paul Bothello, put the whole thing together, and at the one concert I managed to attend (mainly because I played on it) Tae-Hong received a well-deserved standing ovation as organizer.

The piece I played, “Pushing Buttons” by Andrew Walters, was billed as a “duet for alto saxophone and two-channel electro-acoustic instrument.” When Tae-Hong approached me last spring about participating in the conference, I sort of casually agreed because it seemed like fun. Then, in August, I got the music in the mail and realized this was a serious chunk of work I’d let myself in for. In addition to a bunch of altissimo stuff (some of which was so far up there I had to look up fingerings on the internet) there were a lot of wide intervals at a fast tempo that necessitated more research for alternate palm-key note fingerings that I could grab that would make playing the lines possible without a lot of burbling and rogue notes getting in there. There were also a bunch of multiphonic effects, which, for the uninitiated, involves playing two or more notes simultaneously on the horn. It doesn’t really come off as a chord, more like several pitches strobing back and forth rapidly.

I won’t bore you with the headaches involved in getting hold of a decent classical mouthpiece in a disaster zone like New Orleans, except to say that you really can’t play this stuff on a Meyer Medium 6. And, if you’re ever really, really stuck, Northwest Music in good ole Vancouver will fed-ex you a nice NC 4 New Classic in three days, tops. Big up to Northwest.

The night before the concert, I had dinner with the composer, Andrew Walters (who turned out to look and sound exactly like a young Wallace Shawn) and afterwards we went back to the campus to go over the piece. Aside from the technical difficulties in the alto part (which I more or less had under my fingers by that point) there was the issue of how to deal with the pre-recorded “electro-acoustic” part. Dropping so much as an eighth note would put me out of synch, and there was also the issue of how to catch downbeats out of fermatas without him being on stage conducting me, which apparently was a no no. He was very helpful in offering suggestions for cues within the pre-recorded part (so I could quickly get back on track if I got lost) and counting strategies for making (often fortissimo) entrances out of silent fermatas. Thanks to his help, the dress rehearsal the next day went well, and the actual concert also went off without a hitch, except for me missing one four note cell (I got out four notes, but they weren’t the four I was aiming at) and blowing one of the multiphonics (it came out a ‘uniphonic’). As scary as the practicing phase can be, it’s fun to challenge yourself with these kind of works.

Right before that, we hosted a pair of clinics at Tulane, one by Paquito D’ Rivera’s bassist Oscar Stagnaro (Paquito was in town to play the Contemporary Arts Center, and graciously comped my wife Darlene and I into the show) and Cuban guitarist-bassist Juan Carlos Formell. Both of these clinics were facilitated by my good buddy professor Javier Leon, and Tulane’s Latin Studies department.

Last week, Barbara Jazwinsky (chair of Tulane’s music department) and I attended a meeting at Loyola University next door, with Loyola’s dean, trumpeter-composer Terence Blanchard, members of the executive of the Thelonious Monk Foundation, and representatives from Dillard University. It seems the Monk Foundation’s agreement with USC Los Angeles expires this year (they teach a two year diploma program coached by top jazz musicians) and the foundation is looking for a new host university. Since Terence Blanchard was born and raised here (and still lives here much of the year) and in light of recent events, he suggested that perhaps the foundation should look to New Orleans for its’ home.

My feeling is that in the end it’ll probably come down to us and Loyola (Dillard’s campus is still not even close to repaired) and I’m really pumped at the idea of having guys like Terence, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter on campus teaching two months out of the year for at least the next two years. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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