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. Given all the teachers in our band, the workshops are a natural. Olman's a professor of percussion, our pianist for the tour, Adam Biggs, is head of jazz studies at Bath Spa University. Aron Kaufman has integrated congas into his teaching of Hebrew to kids. Drummer and tour instigator Jon Krosnick is fully engaged in teaching as a professor at Stanford. Multi-instrumentalist Paul Vornhagen has a thriving music studio. 

The climactic moment at Bristol came when many students joined us on the stage to play samba 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, England, 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 some Americans 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 at us. 

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.