August 2nd, 2014

Matt Jenson the Educator and the Musical Artist: WELCOME!


Matt has been on the piano faculty at Berklee College of Music (in Boston, MA, USA) for over 10 years and has developed a POWERFUL set of skills for teaching piano, keyboards and Hammond organ in many styles including jazz, pop, R&B, rock, reggae and Afro-Cuban. He also teaches song writing, arranging, improvisation, and coaches ensembles. Not a keyboard player but interested in Matt’s approach?…no problem. He teaches improvisation and his approaches to groove on pretty much any instrument!

You can study with Matt from any part of the world via SKYPE! Fees are on a sliding scale.
For further information or to book a lesson, CONTACT MATT NOW.

Check out Matt’s overall teaching philosophy and his super popular Music and Life of Bob Marley class.

In the not too far future Matt will be posting a series of educational videos.

Matt is involved with many projects as a performer, composer and arranger that range in artistic intention from pure dance party to a combination of that and a hopeful socio-political message.

- For a great Latin and Reggae dance party, check out COMBO SABROSO/LOS FOUR.
- For a deep reggae groove with his message of insightful and positive socio-political-environmental awareness and…CHANGE, check out THE LIQUID REVOLUTION BAND.

Don’t forget to sign Matt’s mailing list if you like what you see, hear, read.

1 Love!

June 11th, 2014

Again and Again: L I V E. (Matt Jenson and the Liquid Revolution)

June 10th, 2014

Step Back: L I V E (Matt Jenson and the Liquid Revolution)

June 9th, 2014

Must Be Free: L I V E (Matt Jenson and the Liquid Revolution)

June 21st, 2013

My Jazz Camp West Experience!

I had the honor of being invited back a third time to teach at Jazz Camp West, June, 2013. It’s such a special happening that I’ve thrown down some blog posts capturing my thoughts on the happenings throughout the week.

In a nut shell, this is a music camp located in the town of La Honda, CA, about an hour south of San Francisco. The whole thing takes place at a YMCA camp nestled in a redwood tree forest. There’s a big open air amphitheater set up as a world class performance stage. Classes are taught in rustic cabins, at the foot of redwood trees or in a meadow….for real! The faculty are top-notch, internationally known jazz musicians AND the people who run the camp (Madeline Eastman and Stacey Hoffman!!) do a ridiculously great job of picking faculty who are hip to the experience, great teachers, and fun as hell people. It’s a music utopia, really. This year was the 30th year anniversary of the camp!

I taught my Bob Marley ensemble and two piano classes, one on how to SWANG, and the other on Blues.
Here’s my ID for the week:
Jatt Menson
Jazz Camp 2013 Blog entries

(See my pictures here on Flickr.)

TUESDAY, June 25, 2013
I had to look up what day it was so I could put it on the heading of this, my first Jazz Camp blog communication, because I had no idea what day it was. That’s what happens here. Everyone is transported to such a different mental, physical, emotional…and musical space that time barely matters…as long as you’re on time for your next class, performance or jam session. There is little to no cell phone service here which is such a relief. You don’t know how much your damn smartphone rules your life until you are forced to be with out it. It’s such a relief, I’m telling you, leave the damn things at home now and then!

LOOK UP! Through the red wood trees, to the clear blue sky, or the starlit sky…take a deep breath, smell the earth.Redwood

Right now I’m sitting on the porch of my cabin and about 30 yards across a pine needled field there is a group of saxophone players at the foot of a red wood tree, sitting next to a piano with their instructor learning the melody of Cissy Strut (the famous Meters tune.) To my right, through the thick woods I can hear a drumset playing a funky rock beat and to my left, over the hill, I can hear a big band playing a cool arrangement of another Meters tune (one of my all time fav’s) “Pungee.” For some reason at this moment it seems to be Meters-mania. Way off in the distance I can hear a piano player working on some advanced jazz voicing’s. The entire camp is alive with sound, including the sounds of nature, a bird chirping, the wind blowing through the trees.

There’s a lite mist starting to fall from the sky. Except for the very first day, this has been the weather, cloudy with an occasional mist but a very comfortable temp, maybe 75. We’re all glad it hasn’t rained hard. Tomorrow and the rest of the week is supposed to be nice and sunny.

This camp experience is amazing. There are some 300+ ‘campers’ from the age of 15 to 70, most of whom are amateur players, many of whom do perform in their own bands or as side musicians in other people’s bands. The vibe here, with everyone is TOTAL LOVE OF MUSIC from the jazz mindset, and this binds us together in what is developing into a tightly knit group, where there is trust and lots of encouragement.

I would venture to say everyone here is engaged in some sort of struggle: Feelings of inadequacy meeting with what can feel like overwhelming challenges, and there is an open vibe about this, which builds a great feeling of trust and openness. At the same time I would say that everyone here is simply enjoying all aspects of the experience and feeling inspired.

As a teacher, the feedback from the students is incredibly positive and one of deep thanks….after every class, I receive really heartfelt verbal thank yous from many students, something I don’t experience to this degree in my other teaching avenues.

Daily, I get up at about 8, take a shower, walk down to the dining hall, sit on the porch, eat with the crowd, breathe in the fresh air, then take a Casino Rueda (Cuban dance) class! (Taught by Sidney Weaverling and Ryan Mead) Pure fun and sometimes mind bending trying to remember the steps and calls. I’m dancing with ‘campers’ and other faculty who are taking the class. We work hard and laugh a lot. Then I head out to my “How to Swang” class in the Piedmont piano lab where there about 10 digital pianos set up. (Special thanks to Jim Callahan of Piedmont Piano Co. who provides many man pianos placed all throughout the camp…and keeps them in tune!) I take a break, eat lunch where usually an impromptu Rueda breaks out, then head back to the piano lab for my Blues class, which is over packed. Then it’s the Marley class which rehearses on the main amphitheater, which….is a world class, half round, performance space with grand piano, fantastic PA system etc. I have a full ensemble (20 players and singers!) and we’re working towards giving a ½ hour performance on Thursday night. Hard work. Then I take a minute to toss a few hoops, do a few push-ups, stretch on the basketball court. About this time is the open mic session for the campers. It’s the highlight for many of them. They will assemble a group, rehearse and perform one song. For some it’s the first time they’ve performed on a big stage. Again, it’s all LOVE from the full audience, all of whom are in attendance to support their peers. Some incredible performances take place always. You really get to hear people play beyond themselves many times.

Dinner, then the faculty concert. Each faculty member gets to perform one song on a selected night. I performed “Must Be Free” from my Dragonfly Taxi album on Sunday night. I assembled a FULL group of faculty including 3 horns, 3 back up singers, bass, drums and percussion. Let me tell you, the faculty here are all World-Class players, always inspiring. These concerts are probably some of the most amazing live shows I’ve ever experienced. Why? Because it’s all about the ART FORM, be it a jazz quartet simply GOING FOR IT, or a Brazilian vocal vibe, a beat box jam (by Tommy Beatbox….it was ridiculously awesome), a solo piano piece that made me cry (Walter Bankovitch playing a beautiful ode to his Grandmother), and a gospel jam that was off the hook.

Then, at about 10pm, there’s dessert and jam sessions set up in the dining hall (tonight is the Latin jam)…and after that, well, it’s the late night hangs…yes, HANGS (plural). There are any number of pockets of jam sessions going on all over the camp, usually very intimate, out side, under the stars (well, clouds so far), where all kinds of amazing music is shared. One of them is the famous “Golds gulch” jam in honor of the vibes player Michael Golds who unfortunately couldn’t make it this year. Picture a giant rug spread on the ground, a few lights hanging from trees, a small PA system, an upright piano on a piece of plywood, a drumset, bass, vibes and guitar amp, chairs.
Golds jam

Another famous jam area is the “GULLY’ or affectionately spoken in a Jamaican accent, ‘pon the gully side.” We had a wikked reggae jam that night, reconnecting with old friends. The Gully is where many of the amazing crew reside. These are the cool peeps who help run the camp, lifting equipment, running wires, making sure everyone is happy. BIG UPS TO THE CREW!!

AND amidst it all, LOOK UP! Through the red wood trees, to the clear blue sky…take a deep breath, smell the earth.

That’s it for now. More to come!
WEDNESDAY, June 25, 2013
SUN, bright SUN!!

The faculty concert last night: Started with a horn fanfare, (with all the horn playing faculty) kind of a marching band type thing that deteriorated into Ornette Coleman free blowing insanity. Let by Matt Wilson, our drummer Artist In Residence.

I don’t have time to speak about the whole concert, but Matt Wilson played “I’ll be There” by the Jackson 5 on solo drumset. Tuck and Patti (yes, THE Tuck and Patti were on faculty) played a string of tunes: You hear about chemistry between musicians, well, they are like one person. Beautiful and soulful. I describe Tuck’s guitar playing style as something like a spider jumping up and down on a hot plate. Bouncy, lite, grooving. Patti has such a rich soulful voice. I cried a tear during their performance.

Here’s a picture of the amphitheater.
The sound that Jeff and Sandy Cressman and the sound crew accomplish is absolutely pristine. Amazing live production work.

The late night jam, after dessert, I went to the Golds Gulch jam, which, I forgot to mention is honorably presided over by the bubbling and endlessly inspiring piano and melodica playing Jovino Santos Neto. The level of playing is so creative and high from Jovino’s intricate and grooving Brazilian jams, to Glen Pearson’s and Randy Porter’s jazz piano virtuosity (in any and all time signatures), to Ratzo Harris’ bass playing to the drumming of Deszon Claiborne.

Top of indian bowl blue sky

Wednesday is a special day at Camp. It’s known to be a kind of break down day for many, where feelings of insecurity meet with mounting exhaustion, but it’s also the day where the entire camp meets at the amphitheater at about 5:30p and we all join a massive Brazilian percussion jam as we all march up a dirt road to the INDIAN BOWL.
Indian Bowl

It is truly a sacred space, a fire pit in the round. The dining staff sets up a big BBQ and after the walk/dance we eat and settle down on the rustic wooden benches and await the happening.

This year, compared to what I remember from the previous 2 years I have been at JCW was really completely off the hook.

Don’t forget, LOOK UP! Through the red wood trees, to the clear blue sky…take a deep breath, smell the earth.

John Santos sets the tone with his introduction reminding us of our connection to the EARTH, to the ancestors, to the healing powers and truth telling of nature. His words and vibrations are deeply rooted in the Yoruba cultural and DRUMMING tradition. To end his introduction some of the camp faculty children, including John’s two young kids, sang an incredible Yoruba chant with John. So cute and focused! I welled up (for the first time that night), thinking about the loss of connection to nature, and that feeling of deep yearning for that connection, that peace, that truth, that openness.

I think part what happens at the Indian Bowl is that whatever struggles anyone of us are feeling, what ever stresses and insecurities, this ceremony brings us all together with a clear message that we are all in this together, in this life together, that the music has a meaning that is MUCH deeper than how well any one of us can play this or that lick, song, groove etc.

It’s the building of trust.

Then Tuck and Patty. They did a song (can’t remember the name) about bringing heaven down here to earth instead of waiting for it. Just beautiful! Second tear of the night shed…

AND, LOOK UP. listen! The redwood trees, the earthen smell, the birds seeming to literally sing answers to the musical goings on.

Next: Jovino comes forward and tells the yearly developing story of the land of trombonia and how the trombone merged with the ukulele, complete with live trombone choir, ukelele choir and choreography, to make the Bonekelele. Jovino is so god damn funny!

Next, my cabin mate and amazing spirit, guitarist, ukelelist and singer, True (AKA True Born) sang “Ain’t No Sunshine” with upright bass, acoustic guitar, hand percussion. He really delivered the sadness of that song.

FINALE: Terrance Kelly, conductor of the gospel choir, cam forward as the camp bon fire simmered a bit and sang, alone, a string of Negro spirituals starting with one with lyrics, “There ain’t no freedom down here. They take all my chil’ren. I wish I was never born.” He has a beautiful and powerful voice (Paul Robeson-esque) and I’m telling you for the duration of that song in particular, in the dark of night, with the camp fire burning, I felt transported to some slave dwelling on a plantation in the deep south. Third session of tears shed. Just chilling, devastating.
Indian Bowl flashlights

IT’S NOT OVER YET: After Terrance’s last syllable there was silence as everyone absorbed the entire thing, his vocals, the essence of the songs, the birds and trees….applause erupts. Whew!

THEN, the JAM OF JAMS. A couple of percussionists jump on the congas and start a driving Bomba like groove, relentless. Then a small circle of people start singing, anything, together. People break from their conversations to come over and join the building juggernaut of vibration. Feel the heat of the campfire, the heat of the movement, the vocals. You have no choice but to join. Before you know it you’re in the middle of a swirling, sonic, rhythmic cauldron of shared life force vibration. Now, you gotta understand this isn’t some drum circle where people who have never hit a drum before or sang very much or danced very much are being given permission for the first time to do so by some new age drum circle leader. This is a bunch of MUSICIANS who have been detached from the ‘real world’ for 3 days, totally immersed in music, in their struggles, and through it have built a certain degree of trust, not to mention many people who have been coming to the camp for years and know this is the time to let it loose. This is 2 and 3 part harmony call and response vocalizations continually morphing into different shades of tone, melody and rhythm from a bunch of people who are throwing down dance movement of any kind, no pretenses of any kind, just SHARING, group creativity, and everyone FUCKING GOING FOR IT!

LOOK UP, at the stars!! Smell the smoke of the fire as it merges with the redwood tree scent.

Endless rounds of dynamic interchange. Bring it up, bring it down, start a new vocal melody, smile at the person next to you who you haven’t seen before but feel like you’ve known forever.

I imagined that this must be what it felt like to be part of some ancient African drumming ritual that was so central to human life, to really making a connection to the earth, to ancestors. I cannot put it into words.

The jam must have continued for 2 hours, but I had to go after about one because I was slated to help lead the Blues Jam. I took my time walking down the dirt road under the massive star lit sky as the Indan Bowl jam raged on, fading, then coming closer to the dining hall where the blues jam sounds slowly took over. I got in, sat at the piano and dropped into one of my favorite roots experiences as a keyboard player….rocking, I IV V BLUES with a wikked band of pros. Then faculty singer Faye Carol came up and we did a slow blues, oh my, we brought the delta to Cali fo sho.
MJ Faye

Then over to Golds Gulch jam and I got my butt up there to jam. I played Night in Tunisia and just had a blast with the other players and the ‘hangers’ at the Gulch. Bed time: about 2:30a
THURSDAY, June 26, 2013
Breakfast at about 8:30, Rueda dance class, and more or less a regular day of teaching.

My “how to swang” piano lab is focused on developing the fine tuned technical control of the fingers so that you can develop the ability to play notes with varying attacks ranging from heavily accented to ghosted. It’s an eye opener for most in the class and very helpful.

My “blues, blues blues” piano class is over full which surprised me! The meat of the class consisted of learning many blues licks and practicing really ‘speaking’ a solo, that is, to develop a compelling story. There’s no better form than the blues to accomplish this.

Marley class: tonight is our performance on the main stage, 10pm. We’ve been working on 6 tunes: Crazy Baldheads, Waiting in Vain, Lively Up Yourself, Positive Vibration, So Much Things to Say, Rebel Music. We had basically 4 hours to put this set together and everyone is really rising to the occasion to learn the arrangements. The past two nights, after dinner, I’ve been meeting with the singers for extra rehearsal time. It’s a 20 piece ensemble!

There’s a basketball court next to the main amphitheater and some impromptu ‘knock out’ games and even a 2 on 2 have broken out. Highlite was when Elio Villafranca and I lined up next to each other for a three pointer.
We shot at the same time and made the shot….2 balls going through the hoop at the same time….AND the camp videographer (Andy Mogg) happened to get it on camera.

Speaking of Elio, we’ve developed a brotherly connection as he’s been sitting in on my blues piano class and I on his montuno class. (Elio is a wonderful Cuban pianist and amazingly great guy…and great dancer!!) Cuba meets the Delta Blues!

After the night time open mic concert the Marley ensemble took the stage. Big up to Jeff Cressman and crew who really dialed in our sound. First thing: we cleared out the first 6-7 rows of chairs. I got on mic to introduce the band and asked the crowd if they were ready….”yeeeeeees”, but I said “not really, until you all get up, stand up.” It didn’t take much for the crowd to jump to their feet, ready to rock. That really changed the energy, to have the crowd standing right in front of the band!

We started with So Much Things to Say and the whole place lit up, dancing, jumping, the kind of energy that’s pure fire, inspired by the sound. We proceeded to really kick butt on all 6 tunes, sounding professional. At one point, just before the last tune during the applause, I threw my hands in the air and started shaking my hands after a few in the audience had started doing that. Then everyone in the room joined in. It looked like some sort of dance choreography. It was simply awesome to look at the crowd, everyone just totally getting DOWN, throwing dance moves. The dub wise on Crazy Baldhead had Gilian Harwin on bass looking like Amlak Tafari (bassist for Steel Pulse), tons of bad ass reggae attitude!
JCW 13 Marley ensemble sm

Here’s “So Much Things to Say”: Listen up!

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…AND LOOK UP! See the stars all the while!

On to the Golds Gulch jam…..bedtime about 2 or so.
FRIDAY, June 27, 2013
Exhausted. Everyone exhausted, but on a high. Last day of classes. Sad. I took 2 short naps during the day, then a ½ hour one, then dozed off sitting on the hill in front of the amphitheater during the nighttime concert.

Lot’s of compliments from people about Marley concert. And some expressing appreciation for bringing the political, societal awareness into music, it (music) being such a powerful catalyst for change. Many people going as far as saying it was a ‘peak moment’ at camp. Stacey Hoffman, camp co-director, told me why: she loves Marley’s music, with the wide range of content….from the political to the love songs. AND that the ensemble sounded really good, not all amateur. A few people came up to me and said that it’s really hard to get them up dancing and the ensemble did it! Here’s “So Much Things to Say.” (MP3, PICTURE)

Dance concert: There has been a growing element of dance at the camp over the years and Friday early evening features performances in the dining hall, just after dinner. I performed with the rueda group….a dance performance,,,a first for me! And I have to say I was in step and groove the whole time!

The final concert at amphitheater after the dance concert was with gospel choir, Latin big band and True’s funky blues ensemble.

I woke up from my doze-off on the ground during show, ate 4 chocolate chip cookies and powered through till 4am.

Gospel Choir always kicks butt and then all the chairs are cleared for the Latin big band. From beat one, the band sounded great and everyone was dancing. Of course Sidney pulled together a Rueda during the set. It was a blast to improvise the moves a bit (now that we all knew a few of them), the way it’s really done. True to tradition, after the last band, there’s a massive dance jam with a DJ. I have not danced like that for a long time. To start things off the DJ played a some rumba and Sid and Elio did a little rumba dancing with Elio ‘shooting’ Sidney….I love that dance and drum sound, reminded me of my trip to Havana.

After that, no holds were barred. Total let-loose dancing by all starting at about midnight. Old R&B, James Brown, some 90’s rap, Michael Jackson etc. My crew of friends kept saying ‘let’s go to golds jam!’ and another great dance tune would come on and we’d stay. Getting goofy on everyone the whole time. With such a tremendous momentum of love, trust and positivity you can imagine what kind of dance moves were being thrown down! (Does anyone from camp have any picture from this? Please send.)

Finally to Golds jam. A ton of people there, music going off. I got up and did No Woman No Cry, got everyone singing. Then Jovino comes forward saying there’s a style of Brazilian music that’s like reggae, called Xote, I say “cool, and I’ll play drums” jokingly and the next thing I knew, I was sitting at the kit doing my likkle reggae thing. It worked quite well and I was being egged on and encouraged by a few of the drum faculty…an honor. What a blast! Seeds were planted for possibly doing a few tunes or an album of ‘reggae Xote’ with Jovino!

Bed time: 4am. Oh my.
SATURDAY, June 25, 2013
A pristine morning and yet another gorgeous sunny day. Barely made breakfast at about 8:45am. Everyone in an inspired daze. After breakfast, a number of combo concerts starting at 10am. It’s a joyous vibe, with many many pictures taken, heartfelt good byes, lots of laughs, a few tears. The final lunch (BBQ) is time for more good byes, I ventured to find out a bit about the lives of some students in my classes. I think one of the great things about camp is that everyone (except for the faculty I suppose) get to put on a completely different persona, that of musicians, when in their ‘real’ lives they have such different roles in their jobs, in their family lives, etc.

Piano faculty posing:
Piano players 3

Cabin mates: True and Tommy (the beat box MAN!)
MJ True Tommy

Jeff Cressman on the mixing board.
Jeff Cressman mixing board

By 2pm the camp is pretty much a ghost town with only the crew tearing down the sound equipment, packing up the cabins etc. There’s a certain sadness that comes with the ending even though every one is looking forward to sleeping in a real bed and getting some serious rest!

IN CLOSING, first, big thanks go out to Madeline Eastman and Stacey Hoffman (and Living Jazz) for their vision and hard has hell work for putting this camp together, now for 30 years. It’s a true institution. Without their leadership and vision, this would never happen.

I have to say that my account surely doesn’t cover everything that happened throughout the week and doesn’t mention all the personal connections I had with so many. I have tried to capture the essence of my inner and outter experience here. Jovino says that to come to camp is to ‘reboot’ your life, to remind yourself deeply of what really matters in life. Here, at Jazz Camp West, we are brought together in the embrace of nature, stripping away the stresses of everyday life (no cell phones, no TV’s, no advertising, no concern for material gain, no hustle), with a deep understanding that music is much more than just music, that is, that it brings people together in joyous celebration. Because of the work we all put in, so that we can achieve a higher level of musicianship, no matter at what level, we reconnect to the things that give true meaning to life: sharing, validation, appreciation, healing, laughing, crying, love and a hell of a good dance move!

(See my pictures here on Flickr.)

One more special: I’d like to thank Syd Williams. He was my pre and post jazz camp host, not only this year but in the past years I’ve attended camp. This gentleman has a HUGE heart and massive love for music. He’s a fantastic supporter of JCW and other musical organizations in the bay area. THANK YOU SYD!
Syd Williams open mic