Monday, November 21, 2022

The Lunar Octet's Storybook Tour of England

Every tour has an anchor gig--the most significant gig around which the tour is built. For our Lunar Octet tour of England this past September, that would be our appearance on a Saturday evening at the Scarborough Jazz Festival. We played our all-original jazz/latin music to a full house.

Scarborough, known to Americans primarily for the traditional song made famous by Simon and Garfunkel, is a beautifully preserved town on the North Sea, northwest of York. Before and after our appearance at the festival came performances for jazz societies, a wonderful jazz club in Nottingham, along with a couple enthusiastically received workshops at grammar schools. 

It would be easy to think that a grammar school is known for its teaching of grammar, but the name refers instead to students having to test to get in.

At the Bristol Grammar School, students of varied ages listened intently to our original compositions, then got a quick lesson about the core of the samba groove from our percussionist, Olman Piedra. Many of them joined us on the stage to play basic rhythm patterns, with the rest of the audience up on their feet, cheering on their classmates. At Bristol, and also at the Torquay Boys' Grammar School, it was remarkable how attentive the kids were, and how much energy they gave back to us, which is always appreciated by musicians.
Later that day, we played at the Pantiles for dancers. 
The highlight was our performance at the Scarborough Jazz Festival, 
followed the next day by a warm, standing ovation sendoff at a beautiful jazz club in Nottingham, named after the Mingus tune Peggy's Skylight. 
Everything about the club is instantly likable, from the couple who own it--she a chef, he a jazz musician--to the wood inlay staircase.
To increase capacity, they repurposed some seating from a theater. That's our pianist Adam Biggs, who joined us for the tour from his home in Bath, and percussionist Olman Piedra hanging with Miles. Adam and Olman excelled at the driver's seat as well as on stage, guiding our vans from gig to gig. 

The piano at Peggy's Skylight, which inspired Adam to new heights, was purchased through crowdfunding, with each contributor paying for a different part of the piano--the pedals, the legs, the keys. One person bought an A minor chord. Having founded two nonprofits in my life, I felt a strong connection to the way jazz gets hosted in England, whether it be a society of jazz enthusiasts raising money to host performances in a local venue, or a privately run jazz club that also draws strength from community support.

Playing seven gigs in five days, we bonded more deeply as a group. As the week progressed, each band member's personality became more fully realized on stage. Brandon was on fire in his trumpet solos. Stepping to the front of the stage the last night, Jeff showed a mix of profundity, virtuosity, and humor in his solo bass intro to Samba Over Easy. Aron spun rhythmic tone poems on his congas. A recent addition to our repertoire, Funky River, provided a vehicle for Sam Clark on guitar and Paul Vornhagen on tenor sax to get down to it. Paul and I, when not playing, liked to serve as rhythmic interpreters, expressing through dance the rhythms of the music. The logistics of the trip were a challenge, but the music is a pleasure to play. One audience member, seeing how much we love to perform our original compositions, called our music "joy jazz." 

We returned home with the spirit of the British in our hearts. Brits use the word "brilliant" the way we use "awesome." Over the course of the week, we heard many a "brilliant!", a generous sprinkling of "lovely", and only one "bloody hell," which was thankfully aimed at the government rather than our music. 

Along with two tours in California, the tour of England made for quite a year for the Lunar Octet. For now, we've returned to our respective homes in Michigan, Ohio, California, Florida, and New Jersey, to await our next convergence. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Sustainable Jazz to Perform at eCommuterfest


Fittingly enough, Phil Orr and I will bring our Sustainable Jazz to an event this Friday, September 30, hosted by Sustainable Princeton. Featuring electric bicycles and cars, the eCommuterfest will take place in the parking lot for Westminster Choir College from 4-7pm. 

You can come to test drive an eCar or eBike, get a free tuneup of your existing bicycle, donate an old bike you no longer need, get some food or Bent Spoon ice cream, and of course listen to our original latin and jazz music wafting over the proceedings. Should be a great event hosted by the highly capable folks at Sustainable Princeton

Friday, September 2, 2022

Sustainable Jazz Plays its Original Music in Kingston Park

Thanks to the Kinston Historical Society and Fire Department for inviting us to perform for their first town picnic in eight years, in Kingston Park. The Friends of Princeton Nursery Lands was also there to share information about their work at what was long called the Mapleton Preserve.

We joke that no virgin timbres are harvested for our performances, but we did feel a strong urge to squash a few of the invasive spotted lanternflies that happened by. 





That's Philip Orr taking it to the hoop on keyboard.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Back From the Lunar Octet's Tour of California

A performance at Portola Valley Vineyards on August 21 completed our Lunar Octet tour in California. 

In addition to the vineyard concert, we played Mr. Tipples jazz club in downtown San Francisco, 


the Del Cielo Brewing Company, 

and had some delightful experiences sharing our music with kids and parents at several libraries.

I've been fortunate to be able to add original repertoire to build on our 2020 record release, Convergence

Back in the lineup are two tunes from our 1995 Highway Fun release: a ballad called All In a Day's Dream, and an upbeat samba number called "Yes! Yes! Yes!", the latter named long ago by an enthusiastic member of the audience.

We've also added some more recent compositions adapted from my Sustainable Jazz repertoire: Funky River, Sambus Interruptus, and Ruum to Ruumba. 

The band has many strong and original voices that were a pleasure to listen to all week: Ann Arbor-based Aron Kaufman, who tells stories with his congas, Brandon Cooper on trumpet, multi-instrumentalist Paul Vornhagen, bassist Jeff Dalton, who is based in the Florida Keys, pianist extraordinaire Murray Low, Toledo professor Olman Piedra on percussion, guitarist Sam Clark, and drummer, host, and organizational wizard Jon Krosnick. 

Formed in the fall of 1983, the group's been together 39 years by my count. Next up, a tour of England in September.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Start-Stop Samba

This samba keeps getting interrupted before launching into a fullblown groove. Phil Orr on piano is a one-man samba. Composer Steve Hiltner performs on alto sax. Recorded live in April, 2022 in West Windsor, NJ. 

Maybe More Than Maybe, Baby

Phil Orr and Steve Hiltner perform Steve's composition, Maybe More Than Maybe, Baby. The title is explained in the video's intro. Recorded in April, 2022 at a full house in West Windsor, NJ. 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Upcoming Performances and New Compositions

Gigs coming up for Sustainable Jazz, which we like to say plays all original music that's organically composed using solar powered imaginations. 
  • The Sustainable Jazz duo will be performing Saturday, April 9 at Salon 33, out Alexander Road in West Windsor. You can join a potluck dinner at 7, followed by a performance from 8-10:15.
  • April 25, a performance for members of Community Without Walls, who want to hear our original music along with an update on progress at Herrontown Woods and Veblen House. This one's not open to the general public.
There's a playlist on my youtube channel of our Until I Find the Words CD. Hopewell pianist Phil Orr and I have been working up some new material. Some of the tune names:

Maybe More Than Maybe, Baby -- A straight-ahead swing tune that, if it had lyrics, could be about a guy who's in love but isn't used to coming right out and saying it. 

Just Do It -- This one's theme popped into my head as I was heading home from a Princeton University women's soccer game. The team has great spirit, and the sense of going for it out there on the field must have sparked something musically.

Start-Stop Samba -- A samba that keeps getting interrupted before reaching a full groove.

Declaration -- Takes the musicians and the listeners on a journey, with different feels and melodies over ascending basslines, before returning to the opening declaration.  

Climbing the Mountain -- Jazz tunes often have chord progressions that move downward (e.g. 3, b3, 2, b2, 1). This one has a bass line that keeps ascending, like climbing a mountain.

Friday, February 25, 2022

This Year for the Lunar Octet: Gigs in Michigan, California, and England

For nearly 40 years I've been musical director for the group persistently known as the Lunar Octet, playing original jazz latin, with gigs this year in Michigan, California, and England.

The Blue Llama, a gorgeous art deco jazz club on Main Street in Ann Arbor, has been a recurrent venue, including a gig earlier this month, but April 6 and 7 we'll be performing at the Dirty Dog in Detroit. There's a trip or two this summer to California, and September 23 we'll be headlining at the Scarborough Jazz Festival in England. 

To my right on the bandstand are the prolific performers Paul Vornhagen on various reeds and Brandon Cooper on trumpet and flugelhorn.

Sam Clark and Jeff Dalton are the string section behind me. Jeff has been shifting to a seaside existence in the Florida Keys, where he's become increasingly busy performing with bands while working remotely on internet security.
And to my left are Aron Kaufman and Jon Krosnick on drums. Aron is teacher of kids by day and master of congas by night, bringing his playful spirit and soulfulness to both endeavors. Jon has multiple careers--a professor of political psychology at Stanford while performing intensely with his trio, the Charged Particles, all the while booking and promoting the Lunar Octet. 

Not quite sure how they pull it all off, day after day, but we're fortunate to find time to periodically gather for performances and even a few rehearsals to learn new material. This month we played to a packed room, including many who looked to be students at the University of Michigan taking advantage of a thriving downtown. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

A Tribute to Phyllis Marchand -- Oct. 17

The Sustainable Jazz duo will be performing at
A Tribute to Phyllis Marchand on Sunday, October 17. Hosted by DR Greenway and the family of Phyllis Marchand, this will be an (outdoor) open house to honor her and her legacy as an environmentalist and former mayor. Phil Orr and I will be performing songs from the American songbook that Phyllis loved, along with a few of our originals. 

Come to the Johnson Education Center, One Preservation Place, Princeton, NJ, any time Sunday between noon and 3pm. The event is free, but please rsvp (rsvp@drgreenway.org)
to help the hosts with planning. 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Lunar Octet to Perform Nov. 3 at the Blue Llama in Ann Arbor, MI

If you happen to be in Ann Arbor, MI on Wednesday, Nov. 3, come by the Blue Llama to hear the Lunar Octet, a latin/jazz band I've been in since 1983. We'll be converging from north, south, east and west to play original music from our 2021 Convergence release on Summit Records, plus one or two new compositions of mine.
 

The Convergence recording has frequently been in the top 50 on the jazz charts since its release in May.

The Blue Llama has great food, and its beautiful, mid-century style comes from the design of Dizzy's Club in NY.

Performance is from 7:00 to 10:15 pm.

The Lunar Octet's "Convergence" Tops the Charts for Hot New Latin Jazz

Through much of the summer, our 2021 Lunar Octet release, Convergence, was at or near the top of Amazon's "Hot New Releases in Latin Jazz." The many positive reviews and airplay around the world are documented on the Lunar Octet website. Though the band is a collective with no designated leader, I took on the informal role of musical director soon after the band formed in 1983, writing out charts and contributing compositions. It's a close-knit group, still based in Ann Arbor, MI. We love performing together, spreading the joy and feeding off the audience's response. Except for a couple covers of Tito Puente tunes, the music is all of our own creation. It's very exciting to see the music now getting heard around the world.



Monday, August 2, 2021

Lunar Octet Interview on "Alternative Venues for Jazz"

Our jazz/latin band, the Lunar Octet, was recently invited to be on Alternative Venues for Jazz, a facebook group started by Gail Boyd. Gail's a manager of artists, and each day she features jazz artists who talk about their lives and recent recordings. It's a great program and we were thrilled to be invited on. Drummer Jon Krosnick, bassist Jeff Dalton, and I spoke about our lives and the recent release of our album, Convergence, which is getting positive reviews and airplay around the world. 

During our 30 minute self-interview, Jon and Jeff asked me to talk about the genesis of my life as a jazz musician and composer. To have a listen to all or part, click on the link above, not the photo.

3:14 -- How I began composing music
14:18 -- How I started to improvise

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Our Lunar Octet "Convergence" CD Reviewed in Downbeat!

We were thrilled to see our newly released Lunar Octet recording reviewed in Downbeat Magazine. It's also been praised in Jazz Is, Jazz Thing, JazzWise, Jazz Weekly, El Chino, PhilsPicks, and in publications in Germany, France, and Japan. There are some nice quotes, like in Downbeat how the compositions "spur the impulse to dance and encourage intellectual engagement at the same time." That's definitely what we're going for. ​A review in German starts by saying, in translation, "Great stuff that we seldom get to hear these days. Perhaps because music that is not cutting edge is undervalued?" That's another characteristic of the band. Our compositions and performances go by Ellington's mantra: "If it sounds good and feels good, then it IS good." 

CDs and downloads can be purchased on the Summit Records site, at Amazon, and elsewhere. Quick listens and streaming are available at Spotify and elsewhere.



Saturday, March 13, 2021

My Piano Talk Videos on Youtube

Over the years, I've written hundreds of small compositions for piano. Some I used in my teaching of kids and adults, others have sat patiently in files over the decades, awaiting some time in the sun. In these recordings on a piano with a special history, I play the compositions and talk about their personal, musical and sometimes political meaning. 

The videos are gathered on this playlist on youtube, with names like "Why am I so happy?," "Carefree in Three," "Con-tin-u-ing," "Palindrome," and "Steve's Delight."




Friday, November 6, 2020

Piano Talk: Palindrome

Another of my short piano pieces, performed and discussed, coming to you from my musical man cave. This one feels like a salve for our torn times. The series of palindromes in the baseline were discovered after it was composed. What's a palindrome? I had to look it up to remember. The tune reflects something many of us are feeling now, post-election, that maybe there's some order and sense in the world after all. 




Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Daughter's Song

An at-home rendition of an original composition from 2019, "The Daughter's Song" is conceived as part of a play in which a family grapples with what it means to be part of a time and a culture that is changing the planet's climate forever.




Saturday, July 11, 2020

A Gig! With Trees Providing the Reverb


On June 24, the Sustainable Jazz duo provided a battery-powered performance for the birthday of Oswald Veblen, his legacy still going strong after 140 years. Talk about sustainability!

I found myself identifying the surrounding vegetation inbetween solos, and marveling at the acoustical richness a forest provides, as each tree sends back its own echo.

The event was an experiment in distanced gathering, with the Veblen House standing by and tables freshly hewn and fashioned from a fallen red maple on the grounds. This was an off the grid celebration with candles and homemade bouquets, and perfect weather. The trees demonstrated social distancing, and a visual encore of fireflies added to the magic.

Phil and I played originals along with requests for Take the A Train and Over the Rainbow, both of which take on new meaning in COVID times.

I've always wanted to be part of a "house band," and this is as close as I've gotten thus far. Until the Veblen House is made useable and the pandemic sent packing, we're calling ourselves the "near the house" band. 

Monday, February 3, 2020

Sustainable Jazz at the Hopewell Valley Bistro, March 26

Update: Well, that didn't happen.

I'm back to composing in my man cave, so we'll be debuting some new original material along with favorites from our CD "Until I Find the Words", March 26, 6-9 at the Hopewell Valley Bistro. Guest artist Sean Dixon will join us on drums, fresh from a gig at Harry Belafonte's 93rd birthday. Part of the popular Thursday night series in downtown Hopewell, hosted by the "Orrsome" pianist and impresario, Phil Orr. 15 East Broad Street, Hopewell, NJ

More on Phil's jazz series in Hopewell, NJ can be found at JazzOnBroad.com. Music runs, walks, and grooves from 6-9pm.

Graphic by Phil Orr

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Lunar Octet Performance at the Blue Llama Jazz Club in Ann Arbor


There's a great new jazz club in Ann Arbor, MI called the Blue Llama. When our group, in its 36th year of performing original jazz/latin music, played there for brunch a couple weeks back,  I knew from the moment I walked in the door that it would be a special experience. Beautifully designed for jazz and world music, it's the kind of space that makes you feel good just being there.


The place has an art deco feel, and the acoustics were designed by the same team that did Dizzy's Club in New York.

Here's conguero and composer Aron Kaufman, playing a solo on my composition, Mambossa. In the background is drummer Jon Krosnick, prime mover in getting our group playing again after a hiatus in the aughts, or however you describe a century's first decade, lost from history, or at least from conversation, for lack of a good name.

The ceiling lighting gives our pianist Keaton Royer multiple halos.


Bassist Jeff Dalton took out his acoustic bass for Jon Krosnick's gorgeous ballad, A Smile of Love.

A great gig in a great venue. Check out the Blue Llama if you're ever in Ann Arbor, and you can find our music at LunarOctet.com. Our new CD will be released early in 2020.

Thanks to Chuck Anderson for the photo that captured the whole band.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Sustainable Jazz to Perform for Women and Wildlife Awards Event


Keith Franklin and bassist Jerry D'Anna will be joining me for a jaunt to Duke Farms as Sustainable Jazz performs again this year at the annual Women and Wildlife awards event, a fundraiser for the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ.

The reception is on Nov. 13 at 6pm, and includes a silent auction with some tasty hors d’oeuvres, and some tastefully short but inspiring speeches.