Tuesday, February 5, 2019

What's New in 2019

Each year, as the stark chill of winter chokes out the final radiant leaves of autumn, I relish the stillness as an invitation to reflect, research, and set my intentions for the year to come. 

Regarding music, I have settled on ONE New Year’s resolution this year:


I am concentrating my efforts in 2019 - striking at the root of inspiration which provoked my initial pursuit of my musical path. The goal is to communicate with wholeheartedness & urgency in each musical utterance - both in performance and instruction. 

Questions arise: Who am I? Who are WE? What are we doing here? Can we cooperatively accomplish our goals? There are many more…they all eventually lead to the same place.


The wholehearted expression of music has the potential to uplift the spirit and heal our hearts. These 12 concerts are representative of a creative continuum which is designed to challenge convention & elude classification. I’ve stationed my tenor saxophone at the axis of a distinctive array of ensembles, putting full trust in improvisation as a potent unifying force across musical boundaries. The mission is to deliver music of substance - embracing the community, while affirming the exceptionally personal nature of creative process for the improvising musician.

I will unveil three concerts at a time, beginning with the winter season. 

January featured  “Hot Air & Horse Hair” - an improvised chamber music ensemble, comprised of improvisers from Baltimore, MD and Brooklyn, NY. While this ensemble had never yet performed in this configuration, there were deep musical bonds across the group which served as fertile creative soil. While each performer is a compelling instrumentalist in their own right, the strength in each of these musicians is in their varied, supple, and compelling interjections - both as soloists and accompanists.

February features “ADULT CONTENT (for hopeless romantics)” - a personalized repertoire of songs from the Great American Songbook, this is an unapologetic celebration of romance and tenderness in the Millennial Age, and a Valentine’s Day tribute to the expressive beauty of the tenor saxophone throughout its history in jazz. To evolve this tradition into the 21st century, the rhythm section must play an equal role in the expression of the music. Reaching beyond the storied “soloist with rhythm section” paradigm allows the classic saxophone/piano quartet formation to bloom into an improvised chamber ensemble of impressive dynamic capacity.

March Features “Trio Xolo” - a telepathic improvising unit, based in Baltimore & Brooklyn. This performance will follow our first recording session at Big Orange Sheep Studio, for projected release later in 2019. Zach Swanson is my longest musical collaborator, boasting a huge tone & personal language that spans the diverse landscape of improvised music. Dalius Naujo is a dynamic, creative, and virtuosic drummer, in a league of his own.

(I design all my own fliers, using “enlight” and “Canva”)


(Documenting Our Music in the “Post Recording Industry” Era)

My whole adult life, I've been an analog man in a digital world. Now in my 30’s, however, I feel an urgency to get my music out to folks by any means necessary... The internet is over saturated with millions of videos & recordings, this is old news. Musicians are all hoping to gain attention for their work, many hoping for a “break”. At this point in my own career, I have learned to be patient and deliberate. Attention comes in its own time, and the music does not require attention from anyone other than those who are HERE, NOW (where & when the music is happening). With that stated, I enjoy watching videos of my favorite musicians, and I truly love listening to studio recordings, which would seem to affirm that both of those mediums are still relevant to the art form. So, I’ve decided to dip a toe in the pool…

I made a "Millennial" purchase, that I put into use for the first time in January for Episode 1 of Derrick Michaels Presents: “Hot Air & Horse Hair”, at An Die Musik. This camera is called the Zoom Q2n4k - it’s Zoom's newest model, and offers the video quality of a Gopro with the audio quality that Zoom is famous for. Despite having overlooked the appropriate audio gain settings (clipping a few times due to the projection of the saxophone at the mics), I am pleased with my maiden voyage with this new little tool. 

I will be pleased to share more in the way of performance videos, sessions at home, and PERHAPS some videos in an educational vein. Till then - here’s set 1 of “Hot Air & Horse Hair”:


As promised, I am catching up on some backlogged recordings from last year.

 I have decided to start a Bandcamp page to share recordings of music that would otherwise not be released, but was well worth "rolling the tape" for. This month I am happy to share two of these recordings. 

Recorded by Anthony Staiti in February of 2018 in the beautiful Griswold Hall at Peabody Conservatory. This was the first day I had my new Theo Wanne Ambika 2 tenor mouthpiece, and I was very excited to resonate in this huge space, and to blend with the sounds of these “orchestral” instruments. The band is myself on tenor, John Dierker-bass clarinet, Zack Branch-cello, Derek Wiegmann-bass. The performance is entirely improvised.

Here’s a track: 

Recorded in November of 2018 at the gallery in Function Coworking Community in Baltimore as a part of a show I put together in a mini tour with bassist Zach Swanson. The tour involved a megabus trip to New York, a quartet show at the Bushwick Improvised Music Series in Brooklyn, a 7am drive down to Baltimore for a two-day-long recording session at the Peabody Recording Studio, helping the advanced recording arts students, and then this wonderful double bill (Zach and myself along with Chris Pumphrey’s “Music for Quiet Spaces”) sandwiched between.

This performance was captured by John Cook - a devoted listener of the music, who comes up to Baltimore from DC quite often to catch the creative shows in town, for this I am very grateful. John has captured several of my concerts in the last year or two, so I’ll be reviewing these, and considering sharing some more of them, in due time. Thanks again, John!

Here’s a track from that recording:


I’ll keep you all apprised as new performance and recording ventures unfold. 

One more reminder, interested students, please visit my website's TEACHING PAGE to see what lessons are about. join my mailing list, and I’ll send you a free PDF of some of the work we will do together.


Go make some noise… 


Long ago, in 2006, I maintained a blog I called "Off the Beaten Path..." 

I was a budding musician, writer, & philosopher, eager to document the internal dialogues that I experienced as a twenty-year-old prototype for the Millennial generation.

Our country was on the verge of the Great Recession, Myspace Music was the social media of choice for many up-and-coming unsigned music artists, Facebook was only used by college students looking to connect with old & new friends... people still owned CD players, while music sales were beginning to plummet in the advent of free downloading streaming services...

Much has changed since then, and my own life has been no exception. The early 2000's brought a boon of technological distraction and social media haze into a world that was already dizzy... I felt the weight of this "evolution" in my own life, which made the task I'd assigned myself: MAKING WHOLEHEARTED MUSIC (in an age where music seemed to be exponentially losing relevance) feel like way too much for me to handle at that young age. So I cracked. I shut down. I pulled away...

I was a recent music school dropout who was about to spend the next thirteen years learning a lot of lessons the hard way...

I struggled with "Artist's Block", white privilege, entitlement, poverty, unemployment, depression, and a myriad of other personal and social issues which plague our culture to this day. It turns out that I was living very much ON the beaten path, experiencing many of the struggles my peers were having - all just a part of growing up in a complex world. Yet, somehow it all felt very personal, and I felt extremely isolated and disconnected from the world around me, even while all these new ways to "connect" digitally were popping up, more and more. It took many years to realize that those experiences were actually a breeding ground for COMPASSION & CONNECTION with the world outside of my house. 

Once I embarked on the journey toward learning these lessons, it didn't make much sense to continue positing my brand of angst-driven, over-intellectualized monologues ... I came to recognize that the internet was doing just fine in that department! So I bailed on the blog. I also bailed on my musical path for four years, and spent my time working manual labor jobs and drinking in bars - searching for the meaning of life. I hadn't found the answers in school, and I never found them in 40-hour-workweeks or pints of Guinness, either.

The Second Chance

Eventually, at 25-years-old, I found my spark. I was profoundly inspired by some folks who were leading the way, shining their lights, and pressing forward into the unknown. These folks not only cleared the way for themselves, but made a path for the rest of us. 


I made my way back into the practice room, back onto the bandstand - with a tenor saxophone in hand, a dream in my heart, and a feeling of purpose. I was able to integrate into a thriving creative scene of improvising musicians in Baltimore, Maryland, where I have now been making music, performing, practicing, teaching, and learning for the last eight years.

I have friends, colleagues, and mentors of world renown, and I have been able to enjoy a modicum of upward mobility through the pursuit of creative music. For this, I feel extremely lucky, and I am very grateful. I feel like I was given a second chance. Blessings that I once took for granted as an entitled youth now feel like an absolute privilege in my thirties. I am extremely happy to have created a life as a professional musician, able to function, more or less, on my own terms. It feels like a one-in-a-million chance...and I don't want to waste it.

Changing our perspectives and attitudes often happens only after the pain of staying the same exceed the pain of changing...this has taken a great deal of introspection and hard work. A Process I work on to this very day. Paying it forward feels very much like my sole purpose at this point in my life.

Which brings me to this blog...

Obviously...this has been the short version of the story. The Prologue. Making a shift as big as the one I had to make at 25 years old, pursuing a very challenging art form with no college degree in the 21st century, without a foot in the door - this is a daunting endeavor. It has been a SLOG. I've been getting my ass kicked the whole way up the hill, and I am only 33 years old, which means that I'll be slogging for as many days, years, decades as I am graced to be on this planet. There are many folks who I know, young and old, who are THIS CLOSE to breaking through the membrane...they just need a little push, or JOLT. They need to feel HEARD. They need to see that someone else was able to do what they're trying to do...and they need to understand, fundamentally, that they have what it takes, too. IF YOU'RE READING THIS, YOU LIKELY HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO DO YOUR THING. We all have everything we need available, right here. If you're sitting at a computer, your basic needs are likely met. So what do we do NOW?

My own process is in a constant state of FLUX, and while there are constants, which I will detail in future posts, many aspects of the creative process for me in 2019 look nothing like they did in 2010. I practice, read, research, meditate, walk in the woods, present concerts, play random gigs, compose, go out to hear others - all the usual suspects for a life in music...Yet, as I get older, I relish opportunities I didn't used to appreciate...like sitting still outside, and just existing within what IS, without trying to change any of it. Or doing the chores around the house, and trying to enjoy that for what it is. There's a process of unfolding that happens, and we begin to LET GO of the desire to compartmentalize between things that are "creative" & things that are not. All of life becomes a creative act...

Along the way, writing has been a very important part of my creative process, albeit one that I have kept mostly private. For years, it was a daily ritual - a means to getting in touch with my deepest needs, fears, hopes, goals, suspicions, etc., but now in my early thirties, I feel compelled to bring this part of the process back into the public sphere. It is important for us all to articulate our thoughts, hone our visions & intentions, and begin the difficult process of taking the power back, by learning how to put our attention where it belongs - IN THE MOMENT! I Recognize the irony of typing this out on a computer, hoping you will sit there, reading MY THOUGHTS about MY LIFE on YOUR PHONE OR COMPUTER.

This is just a step. I am not a published author. I am barely a writer...I am a musician and citizen of Earth, doing what I can to make the best of my time here. The least I can do is use whatever platforms I can to contribute something of value for folks to gnaw on. And I promise to keep getting better. At music, at writing, and at living.

Something beautiful happens when we hold ourselves accountable...

I am thankful to have the attention of musicians across generations, who inspire me greatly. Part of our RESPONSIBILITY in living a life of creative freedom is to pay it forward, and set the best example we can for the folks around us. I'm only one person, writing a blog, playing a saxophone, putting music out into the world that is unlikely to have any mass appeal. But I know that all of this work is connected to something much bigger than me, or even music, performing, & writing. I am hoping that all of you who read this blog feel affirmed in the beauty of YOUR own contributions to the world around you, and I also hope that something you see or hear on here might inspire you to make a NEW START or to KEEP GOING on a venture that brings your soul to life.


What's New in 2019

Each year, as the stark chill of winter chokes out the final radiant leaves of autumn, I relish the stillness as an invitation to reflect...