Michael Musillami, Michael Wolff
January 1, 1970It was a busy week, despite the relative paucity of stories — just the weekly Jazz Notes column, this one on guitarist Michael Musillami, and the Calendar blurb about Michael Wolff.
There is a Q&A with Dave Holland in the works, however, pegged to his spending next week teaching at New England Conservatory. It actually breaks some news: that Holland has been named NEC artist-in-residence, and will be making similar four-day teaching trips to the school each semester for as long as he holds the post. That story will probably run tomorrow (Sunday) or Monday.
Also coming up Monday is part two of "The Future of Jazz in Boston," this Jazz Journalists Association panel discussion to take place Monday night at 6:30 at the Regattabar. Panelists will include author Gary Giddins, two-time Grammy-winning liner notes writer (and former Globe jazz columnist) Bob Blumenthal, Berklee president Roger Brown, and Ann McQueen of the Boston Foundation. Moderators are Christopher Lydon (formerly of "The Connection") and pianist/composer Donal Fox. All of which was announced in the Boston Globe last Monday, but bollixed up so that the event was said to be happening that night rather than this coming Monday.
(My writing about JJA events for the paper is off-limits, because I belong to the group myself. My Globe editors view that as a conflict of interest. But this event sounds very promising. I'd attend it myself, if I didn't have a class to teach at Boston University that meets at the same time.)
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For contemplative guitarist Musillami, freedom's just another way to swing
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | February 4, 2005
Free jazz doesn't have to be dissonant, loud, aggressive, and otherwise off-putting to the uninitiated. The quietly melodic work of guitarist Michael Musillami's trio, which makes its local debut at Zeitgeist Gallery tonight, is a case in point. It's challenging and adventurous stuff, but maintains enough structure and open space to be approachable to the free-jazz averse.
Musillami, 51, gathered together bassist Joe Fonda and drummer George Schuller a couple of years ago to record "Beijing," the title tune of which Musillami had written a few years earlier in memory of the pro-democracy movement and subsequent crackdown at Tiananmen Square. He put the disc out on his own Playscape Recordings label. It garnered a fair amount of critical praise, and the trio has since made two tours of Europe.
Now the group is ready to record a follow-up. The record — some new tunes from which will be field-tested at Zeitgeist — will probably be titled "Dachau," Musillami says. He's planning to record a composition of the same name that he wrote after touring the former Nazi concentration camp during the trio's most recent pass through Europe.
For all the violence and outrage in subjects such as Tiananmen or Dachau, there is very little of it in Musillami's music. The guitarist's writing and improvising take a contemplative, impressionistic approach, heavy on melody and color. And they have done so, he says, going back to his days studying the instrument in Los Angeles with Joe Diorio.
Diorio, Musillami says on the phone from his home near Springfield, "gave me, in the most general terms, some reason to do what I do. And to me that was the most important information I could get. 'What are your intentions? What are you trying to prove here?' "
So what are Musillami's intentions?
"Well, your intention is to create melody, really, and to create colors," he says. "And it's not to play fast, and it's not to wow the fans, and it's not to be a star. And it's really, obviously, to express yourself."
Another key influence on Musillami was the late alto saxophonist Thomas Chapin, who was among the first musicians Musillami met after Diorio convinced him to move to the East Coast in 1981. Musillami was part of the house band at a jazz club in Waterbury, Conn., at the time, and Chapin, a Connecticut native, was sometimes booked at the club.
Musillami admired the way Chapin could move back and forth between free jazz and bebop. So much so that he included a Chapin piece on "Beijing" ("The Present") and then followed that with an entire CD of Chapin music last year ("Spirits," which Musillami recorded with an octet).
"Thomas came from two places," says Musillami. "He had that open thing with such energy and could just burn the stuff down, and then he would play more mainstream and play through any kind of changes, any tempos, and in my opinion that's rare.
"A lot of cats who are left of center kind of stay in that world. It's hard for them to cross over. And some cats need chord changes in front of them. And Thomas could go both ways with no problem. And that was a big influence on me. You can do both, and really have a voice in both worlds."
Straddling the two worlds is considerably less rare than it used to be, according to George Schuller, a graduate of New England Conservatory (and son of longtime NEC professor Gunther Schuller).
"I think you'll find that more common than not these days," Schuller says, "because of the way a lot of us have gone through the school systems. We all are coming from a certain background in knowing theory and harmony and then knowing the jazz tradition and then also studying the free improvisational period that came along in the '60s and '70s."
"All of the players on our label, for the most part, come from the tradition," agrees Musillami. "That was the roots of our playing. And this other thing, that tends to be a little left of center, it comes from that. If you remove the bar lines and maybe get rid of some of the rules, it's the same thing — the music swings, but it's maybe a little less predictable."
Concert on campus: Berklee College of Music and Roxbury Community College will kick off a new concert-series collaboration tonight at the latter's Mainstage Theater, where Roxbury native Tuffus Zimbabwe will perform a concert with his quartet.
The 22-year-old pianist, a Berklee scholarship student, opened for Andre Ward and jazz legend Lou Donaldson at the Berklee Performance Center in December and regularly performs his blend of jazz, classical, world, and gospel music at various venues around town. Rounding out his band are fellow Berklee students Frank Abraham on bass, James Casey on saxophone, and Lyndon Rochelle on drums.
Advance tickets for tonight's show cost $7 and can be purchased at the box office at both schools. Call 617-541-5380 for more information.
The Michael Musillami Trio will perform at Zeitgeist Gallery tonight at 9:30. $15. Call 617-876-6060.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Michael Wolff & Impure Thoughts
Scullers, DoubleTree Hotels Guest Suites, 400 Soldiers Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 and 10 p.m. Ticket only, $15; dinner/show, $53
Michael Wolff has been putting more of his own mark on jazz since the demise of "The Arsenio Hall Show," which he served as bandleader and music director during the show's 1989-1994 run. Wolff had earned that TV gig with a solid sideman career, playing with the likes of Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, and Nancy Wilson. For the past decade, though, the pianist has been fronting his own groups. His work in that role has included several CDs, among them a pair of piano-trio dates with heavyweights Christian McBride and Tony Williams. His most recent release, the world-music-tinged "Dangerous Visions," features Wolff playing live before a studio audience with Impure Thoughts bandmates Badal Roy (tablas), John B. Williams (electric upright bass), and Victor Jones (drums), plus percussionist Airto Moreira. "Blessed with a surfeit of spontaneity," according to JazzTimes, the disc includes five Wolff originals - a couple of them improvised on the spot - and covers of Nat Adderley ("Work Song"), Rollins ("St. Thomas"), John Coltrane ("A Love Supreme"), and a Dizzy Gillespie/Chano Pozo collaboration ("Soul Sauce").
Wed 2-9 Laszlo Gardony The Hungarian-born, Boston-based pianist has a half-dozen albums to his credit and has performed with a passel of big name jazzers, among them his special guest next week, trumpeter Randy Brecker. Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 p.m. $15.