BCS Spotlight

Friday, 28 April 2017 17:06

Pat Martino - Zen-Like Precision

I had the great fortune of seeing a true living Legend of Jazz Thursday night at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase and was able to speak to him before the first set. Pat Martino is one amazing man. He is also one of the nicest people you could ever meet. I sat and asked him a somewhat unrehearsed collection of questions. I did know a bit about him so the questions were not exactly random.

 

One of the first things we talked about was his approach to taking words and turning them into melodies. Martino explains there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, seven notes in the major scale. That’s three groups of seven and one of five. You repeat the notes after you get to the seventh degree of the scale. Any word can become a melody. This tells you right away that you are not dealing with a traditional thinker here.

 

A word that popped up more than once in the conversation was precision. This is the way he seems to approach all aspects of life, not just music. Another key word was awareness. Awareness is a highly-overlooked concept for most people. Musicians who are tuned into what they are playing and the people they are playing with are going to end up on another level entirely. I consider Pat’s thinking to be extremely Zen in nature. “All there is, is now” was my favorite quote of his. It is very eye opening, really. The idea that the past and future do not truly exist is a reality most of us cannot accept. There is so much truth in that statement.

 

Another thing that struck me was how he talked about not being obsessed with music. That is another strong statement. This at first might seem a bit too casual for a musician to accept. How can a serious musician follow this? It is easy to get so caught up in your music that the rest of your life suffers. The rest of your life should be incorporated into your music. Balance is key to everything, another Zen like concept.

 

Now, let’s talk about the music. Pat currently plays in an organ trio. For those of you unfamiliar, that is organ, guitar and drums. There is no bass player. The organist handles the bass role most of the time. I personally love this type of trio. I am a huge fan of the Hammond B-3, an instrument that gives off one amazing sound - truly hard to duplicate. Pat Bianchi was the man behind the keyboard. He was Martino’s perfect compliment. He traded solos with Pat and provided superb accompaniment. 

 

Carmine Intorre completed the trio on drums. Jazz drummers are amazing creatures. The way they think of rhythm is off the hook. Rhythm is probably the most overlooked piece of the musical puzzle. Nothing grooves without the groove. I have heard the quote that a live band is only as good as the drummer. Intorre kept it going without a bass to lock in with, great job.

 

Pat’s own playing was flawless. I don’t remember hearing a bad note. His solos were highly creative. The rhythm of his phrasing brings back that word precision. Here is a guy pushing seventy-three-years-old that can out play people in the prime of their life. Actually, he may still be in the prime of his life. This guy is using strings on his guitar that most guitar players could not use. I am talking some heavy strings, even for Jazz players. I think a lot of it is due to how the man approaches life. Most people his age are shot, just not much left. He seems to really value a healthy lifestyle. I think being, as he described it, “mostly vegetarian” helps a lot. A lot of artists sacrifice their own health in pursuit if their art. Your body and mind are truly your instrument, not your guitar. The Zen concept again comes to mind.

 

Jazz can seem to be a bit self indulgent at times, all the soloing and all. What it really is a conversation between musicians. That is not always easy to see. However, when musicians are of this caliber, it is. I’m sure a lot of people who go to see a guy like Martino go to see an amazing guitarist. I can count myself on that list but after talking to Pat, I felt like I understood the scene a whole lot more. He talked about how the scene was back in the hey day. It was a community, not just the musicians. Jazz is a very social environment. In some ways, it is musician’s music. The fans are certainly another element. It is an environment for thinking people. An outsider might consider this a snobbish line of thinking. What it really is, is an escape. Jazz is a way of diving into a pool of joy. A lot of intelligent people find it difficult to exist in the world. They need a place to escape. Jazz clubs were at one time filled with people like this. I find it kind of sad in a lot of ways that there really is a very small Jazz scene left. That to me tells you a lot about our society today. 

 

I don’t want to end this on a downer. What I will say is don’t be afraid to think. Think outside the box. My conversation with Pat Martino was a bit of an epiphany to me. It’s okay to think and have your own ideas. You can live your life with a level of precision. This can be a pattern in your life, your music. Incorporating your life into your music is as important as bringing music into your life. I saw an amazing guitar player Thursday night, but I also met an amazing person. Thank You, Mr. Martino.

 

Published in BCS Spotlight

When a band has been touring for over twenty-five years, they're not only good; for all intents and purposes, they're flawless. The Australian Pink Floyd Show, commonly shortened to the more concise 'Australian Pink Floyd', has been recreating the Pink Floyd concert experience since 1988. Any and all fans of the progressive rock band fronted by Roger Waters and David Gilmour are guaranteed to have an ecstatic time watching Pink Floyd's most well-known cover group play selections from The Wall to Dark Side of the Moon to Wish You Were Here.

Even if you are unfamiliar with Pink Floyd's music, I would challenge you to be unimpressed by the kaleidoscopic light display, if not by the brilliantly-composed songs themselves. Green laser beams fanning out and reaching into the night sky on "Money", softer blue lights illuminating the stage on "Wish You Were Here", bright white strobes flashing to the beat during "Another Brick in the Wall Part II" -- the lights are tailored specifically and magnificently to complement the mood of each song. Also employed were giant inflatable characters from The Wall as well as an enormous pink kangaroo, the group referencing the signature Pink Floyd pig as well as adorably indicating their South Australian pride.

All of this -- astounding visuals accompanying some of the greatest rock music ever taken to arena stages -- was set against the backdrop of the glimmering Chicago skyline as we sat with our backs to Lake Michigan on Northerly Island. This is not merely a cover show of Pink Floyd but a celebration of the band's music, creativity, and distinctive style. As long as there are fans of this legendary band, we will have need for groups like Australian Pink Floyd to keep this one-of-a-kind music experience alive.

To learn where Australian Pink Floyd are playing next, visit their Tour Page. For more information on events at Northerly Island go to LiveNation.com.

Published in In Concert
Few creative partnerships in cinema have been as long-lasting or fruitful as the 20+ year collaboration between filmmaker auteur Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman. Haunting, eerie, at times chaotic and bizarre, ominous, melancholy, yet often soothing and serene: These words can be used to describe both the stark visual content of Burton's films as well as the dark drama of Elfman's music. Both artists have exquisitely distinctive styles that seamlessly breathe life into each other and -- luckily and miraculously -- are ultimately one in the same.
 
Last night, the Ravinia pavilion and lawn in Highland Park were flooded with the sounds and creations of these two artists by virtue of the talents of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lakeside Singers. A screen flashed clips from Burton's films ranging from 1988's Beetlejuice to 2012's Dark Shadows with a whole slew of others in between. Also shown were dozens of Burton's drawings of various characters, often followed by the live action scenes of those very characters, showing how vibrantly his original twisted creative vision is portrayed in the final polished work.
 
 
And of course, there was the cinematic, stunning music. The program consisted of thirteen suites (an intentional and apropos number) from Elfman's vast catalogue of musical scores. With the powerful music booming through the pavilion, even without the aid of the screen I could see the horrific clown dream sequence from Pee-wee's Big Adventure, the Penguin rising from the dank sewers into a foggy Gotham, the colorful confections of Willie Wonka's factory, the deranged headless horseman in pursuit of a petrified Ichabod Crane, the impossibly skinny form of Jack Skellington sprinting excitedly through the bright cheerful lights of Christmastown, and, in my favorite of the Burton + Elfman + Depp collaborations, I could practically feel the snowy chill in the air during the ice dance sequence from Edward Scissorhands
 
All the suites were performed beautifully by the always flawless CSO, conducted by Ted Sperling, with the Lakeside Singers choir complementing the orchestra with background vocals and unearthly soprano "oooh"s. Gorgeous, intricate piano was in the spotlight for "Victor's Piano Solo" from Corpse Bride, frenzied violin for the hair-cutting sequence from Edward Scissorhands, and, by far the most non-traditional instrument of the night, the theremin (an electronic musical instrument played by manipulating the frequencies with one's hand -- without physically touching it at all) created a high-pitched tone so weird and uncanny you almost expected to see UFO saucers descending from the night sky.Yes, the CSO pulled out all the stops, neglecting not even Mars Attacks!, decidedly the most obscure of Burton-Elfman creations.
 
Too sadly, this was a one-night performance, though it could surely draw in crowds for months and even years if an extended run was possible. While you cannot see the show in person anymore, I wish every Burton fan the same experience as I had. 
Here I've compiled a playlist of some of the songs from the concert. Listen and enjoy while scrolling through Burton's artwork for an immersive Burton-Elfman experience. I'm sure you will agree with the sentiment from Johnny Depp's program note that "Tim and Danny are a match made in the stars."
 
For more information on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, look at their event page or visit the box office at 220 S Michigan Ave.
Published in Theatre Reviews

 

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